Pursuing kabbadi as a sport in India is no mean feat but these three women, who once were the captains of the Indian kabbadi team, worked hard to bag the highest award in kabaddi, the Arjuna Award.
Breaking stereotypes and being an inspiration to many, these three captains of Women’s Kabbadi Challenge, Mamatha Poojary, Tejaswini Bai and Abhilasha Mhatre, have made India proud.
The players spoke to Hindustan Times about their phenomenal journey from the small villages to the international sports platforms.
Kabaddi player Mamatha Poojary. (Waseem Gashroo/HT Photo)
Playing Kabaddi for the last seventeen years, Poojary was born and brought up in a small village Udupi in Karnataka. “I never wanted to play this sport since it appeared as a man’s game to me. But, my college team needed a player and I was asked to participate. I agreed on the condition that I won’t wear shorts,” laughs Poojara.
She adds, “I played my first match in suit-salwar. I got injured and my family instructed me not to play anymore. However, I felt a strong connection with the game.” The 30-year-old player has brought eleven gold medals for Indian Kabaddi Team, including Asian Games and World Cup. She says, “I was 26 when I received the Arjuna Award for representing India in more than 10 Asian Games.”
Kabaddi player Tejaswini Bai. (Waseem Gashroo/HT Photo)
Representing India at National level for the last fourteen years, Tejaswani Bai is an all-rounder known for scoring bonus points. The 30-year-old player was bitten by the Kabaddi bug in her eighth standard, when she stumbled upon a match in her home town. There was no looking back since then and with the support of her father, Bai become captain of Indian Kabaddi Team in 2010.
“My father was my back bone and had always supported me to play this game. In our society, women are not supposed to play this game and it took a lot of efforts to convince my mother and others in my family about it. The journey from nowhere to Arjuna Award was challenging but it helped me to shape my identity,” says Bai.
Currently, the player works as an office superintendent at South Central Railway and also plays Kabbadi for the Indian team.
Kabaddi player Abhilasha Mhatre. (Waseem Gashroo/HT Photo)
“Reaching the National level needs years of dedication and hard work,” says Abhilasha Mhatre, a 28-year-old Mumbai based National Kabaddi player. Mhatre has been playing this sport since the age of 12.
“There are Kabaddi clubs in every Mumbai school. I also started playing in school and went on to play at district, state and national level. Jab India ki jersey milti hai to bas sari mehnat safal ho jati hai. To get that position, we have to fight for long,” says Mhatre.
She got the Arjuna Award in 2015 and has played nine nationals till now. Talking about her practice session, Mhatre says, “During the monsoons, we get a four-month break where we focus on body strengthening. Along with practice sessions, having a fit body is also important.”
Mhatre, who took a two-year break due to a knee injury, made a comeback to the national team and won the inaugural Kabaddi World Cup in 2012.