By 13, Neetu had seen the worst life had to offer. Barely into her teens, she was married off to a 43-year-old mentally challenged man in Bhiwani. Her decision to walk out almost immediately was met with opposition within the family, yet she moved on.
Fearing social stigma, marriage was again on the cards and by 14, Neetu was a mother. Amid the turmoil, hope flickered as she kept alive her dream of becoming an international wrestler.
The desire stayed with her but she took to the sport seriously only at 17. The village elders opposed her entering the male-dominated akharas, but she persisted, and by 19 was a national medallist in the senior category. The toil bore fruit in August when the 21-year-old represented the country at the Junior World Championships in Brazil.
Chasing her dreams has come at a price. Economic hardship meant she had to do odd jobs to make ends meet — from working in shops to tilling land. Issues remain as she spends six hours daily commuting to her training centre, Chotu Ram Stadium, in Rohtak city.
“Since childhood, I had a fascination for sport but my family didn’t allow me to visit the stadium. Things went awry, and pursuing wrestling didn’t arise. Sanjay (her second husband) came as a saviour as he accepted me despite my past,” said Neetu.
“Becoming a mother at 14 and the family’s financial condition didn’t allow me to think about sport for the next few years. I started in 2011, and in 2014, I won my first medal in the Nationals,” she said, hoping wrestling would change her family’s fortunes one day.
The tide is changing as villagers, who were earlier up in arms, now take pride in Neetu’s achievements. A grand reception awaited her when she returned with a silver medal from the National Games in Kerala earlier this year.