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Wrestling her way to the top

Woman wrestler Sonika Kaliraman chats up with Priya Rajendran about how the sport has become her life's ultimate goal.

india Updated: Mar 05, 2009 21:27 IST
Priya Rajendran

Wrestling in India dates back to 5th century BC and has undergone several changes over the centuries. The most recent changes have been the presence of the fairer sex in the game in India.

Indian women have also started participating in wrestling matches - all thanks to one man - Chandagi Ram. An Arjuna Award winner in 1969 and later a Padma Shri winner in 1971, he trained his three daughters and chose his daughter Sonika Kaliraman to lead the revolution in women wrestling. He coached and sent her for national and international level competitions too.

Woman wrestler Sonika Kaliraman chats with Priya Rajendran about how the sport has become her life.

With the first Mahila Bharat Kesari award under her belt, Sonika fought her way to win gold medal in Asian senior women championship (junior) in 2001.

"An Arjuna awardee, my father grew up in the wrestling environment and wanted that his daughters too take up wrestling. And after that women wrestling began took off even at a time when women were nowhere in the picture," says Sonika Kaliraman, daughter of world-famous wrestler Chandagi Ram.

In the first few days, Sonika recalls that she was scared of broken bones. "In fact, I was more like 'how can women play the game?'," explaining how they (all the three sisters) were all scared in the beginning. They all feared that their studies would also suffer tremendously. "But we all ended up passing Xth std successfully," she says with a laugh.

That was the beginning and it followed many accolades like gold medals in national championships at Ranchi, Udaipur and J&K and another gold in national games in Guwahati last year. Her winning streak made everyone believe a few years ago that female wrestling had "arrived" in India.

Her combative journey started back in 2000 when her father showed her a newspaper cutting of Priyanka Chopra, who made country proud by bagging the title of Miss World the same year. It inspired her to to become a world-class wrestler. "The idea was to do something praiseworthy and awe inspiring. If one girl can win over the world by her beauty and charm, why can't another girl prove her mettle by her physical strength?" she replied with conviction.

Her father insisted that she become an example for other women to take up wrestling as a sport in the country. He was extremely broad-minded and did not mind that his daughter had to wrestle with injuries. Being the Vice President of the wrestling association, he promoted Sonika and sent her to play she ended up winning a gold medal for the country.

Though she admits she was pushed into the game, to begin with, it gradually became a source of power for her. All of 5'9", she says that she gathered courage to stand up against the roadside boys who used to bully and even tease her. "I thought to myself that now I can pin them down in one minute. It was a different sensation altogether."

The best defining moments for Sonika as a woman have been when parents send their daughters to train in their 'akhara' only because of Sonika's success and she feels proud that she is a woman wrestler.

It has indeed been a long struggle for women's wrestling thanks to the still conservative mentality in both urban and rural areas where its considered a matter of shame for women to take up a male-dominated sport. "All this is gradually changing," she says, giving instances of parents encouraging their daughters for the same.

Sonika's message for a woman today is to stand up for themselves and have faith in themselves and their decisions in life. It is also important to stay fit - physically, emotionally and mentally, she quips.