In a state where the marriage of teenage girls is common, several women athletes have created a flutter in Haryana by putting off wedding plans so that they can focus on preparing for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
From Indian women’s hockey team member Deepika Thakur to wrestlers Lalita Sehrawat and Geeta Phogat, the sportswomen have surprised their families and the conservative society by insisting that their marriages will be on hold for at least till the world’s greatest sports event gets over.
Deepika Thakur, 28, has put on hold her marriage till the Rio Olympics even though the final announcement about the Indian women’s hockey team securing a berth at the event will be made only by the end of October. However, a fifth place finish at the recent Hockey World League semi-finals in Belgium has almost made it certain that the Indian eves will travel to Rio.
“My mother has given me an ultimatum for marriage till this October. But as now we have qualified for the Olympics, the marriage plans have to be postponed till August next year,” said Thakur, who hails from Yamunanagar.
Thakur’s father died in 2013 and her mother, who is not in good health, has been insisting on one thing since then – that Thakur “should get married before she dies”.
“So, I decided to go for marriage after last year’s Asian Games. But as we won a medal there, I requested my mother to give me a few more months till the Olympic qualifiers,” she said.
“And now, as we have almost achieved it, so there is no question of getting married before August 2016. Now my mother too wants that I should focus on my game,” added Thakur, whose three elder sisters got married before the age of 26.
Women have never had it easy in Haryana’s patriarchal society and marriage is often a compulsory stopover that arrives well before girls complete their teens, though the legal age for marriage for women in India is 21.
But there are sportswomen like 22-year-old wrestler Lalita Sehrawat who are ready to defy the gender stereotype. Sehrawat, who bagged a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, is luckier than the rest because her plans are supported by her fiancé, former international wrestler Balraj Nain.
Wrestler Lalita Sehrawat jogging during a practice session at Hisar in Haryana, on July 7, 2014. (HT File Photo)
Though the couple were engaged in 2012, Sehrawat has put marriage on hold in view of the Rio Olympics. She has already made it to the eight-member squad for the World Championship to be held at Las Vegas in the US in September. The meet is the first qualifier for the Olympics.
“My fiancé is very supportive and is playing a pivotal role in shaping my wrestling career. Keeping in view the preparations for the Rio Olympics, we have decided to put marriage plans on hold,” said Sehrawat, who belongs to Hisar.
With her father bed-ridden because of paralysis, the responsibility for taking care of Sehrawat’s travel and training has shifted to Nain.
“We have entered the 21st century and still our families face sarcastic remarks that it’s been such a long time since our engagement and we are still to get married,” said Nain.
“A close friend of mine has told me to listen to my heart and forget about the rest. Moreover, people don’t even spare God, so we are just commoners...So, right now I am only focused on Lalita’s wrestling career and all other things can take a back seat.”
Geeta Phogat, 26, who created history by becoming the first Indian woman wrestler to qualify for the Olympics, too has put her marriage on hold.
Wrestler Geeta Phogat at National Institute of Sports, Patiala, on April 19, 2012. (HT File Photo)
“Earlier it was till the London Olympics, but now Geeta does not want to discuss marriage till the Rio Olympics,” said her father Mahavir Singh, on whose life Bollywood star Aamir Khan is making the movie ‘Dangal’.
“At the London Games, Geeta’s performance was average. But then immediately after that, she won bronze in the world championship and that changed everything. Now she wants to win a medal in the Olympics and everything else comes after that,” said Singh, who is also her coach.