A recent seminar on gender equality in sports took note of the changes seen in the field over the years, and those that are yet to come

About 75 kms out of Delhi, right next to the Millennium City of Gurgaon, is Mewat district of Haryana. In a State that boasts of being at the forefront of providing incentives to women in sports, Mewat continues to have the rampant practice of buying young, virgin girls from other States solely for the practice of producing male heirs (called molki). Gender equality is perhaps today the most clichéd term brandished around in big cities like Delhi. But a seminar highlighting molki and other ugly realities of the man-woman divide in our society can be a timely reminder of how much needs to be done to make it a more equal place.

The one-day seminar, “Gender Equality in Sports”, organised by the Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Khalsa College this past Friday, saw speakers sharing their experiences to highlight the struggles Indian women still go through to make a mark in sports. Professor Sarojini Nandal, who teaches Journalism at the Maharishi Dayanand University, Rohtak, and has seen the inequalities first-hand, stated that the participation of girls in her college was not due to any support or encouragement from the system or the society but purely as a result of self-determination and perseverance of the girls.

“Haryana may give DSP posts to women athletes but it also continues to have the practice of molki. Unless we can change the attitude of the society at large, equality in sports will remain a dream. Women sportspersons are still rated first on their physical beauty and then on their sporting prowess,” she said.

This, in fact, was the recurring theme throughout the discussion. Sports commentator Novy Kapadia highlighted the patriarchal mindset behind considering women not fit for long-distance running till the 1970s (the first women’s marathon was only in 1984, at the Los Angeles Olympics).

“In the Indian context, the demographic was also different. A look at India’s medallists at the first Asian Games in 1951 shows that only the Anglo-Indians, with a more liberal attitude, were participating. That’s why the likes of Geeta Zutshi, P.T. Usha and Suman Rawat are so remarkable. They not only broke the mould of women being weak but also took sports to other communities across India,” he said.

While all the speakers agreed that the commercial aspect of women and glamour in sports — whether as athletes, journalists, administrators or marketers — must be considered, it was equally important to understand that only consistent performances on the field of play can make her an icon.

Senior sports administrator Suresh Kumar Lau, meanwhile, gave an example of how things have improved. “The first Asian Games had 30 women athletes. The last one in 2010 saw 3000. The first Olympics of the last century in 1900 saw a grand total of 22 women, in golf and tennis. At London last year, 47 per cent athletes were women and 65 of them were flag bearers. So, it’s not that things have not improved at all,” Lau said.

Arjun J Chaudhuri, part of the team that conceptualised a presentation on the subject, made a pertinent point when he said that the need was to understand the social changes behind any attempt to bring about gender equality. “When women were first allowed to vote, it was not because of some largesse but because of an inherent realisation that as voters, they could get employment and in turn contribute economically. Similarly, we have to create a social situation that encourages incentives for both the corporate world and sports administrators to bring in more women into the fold at every level,” he said.

Smita Mishra, who organised the seminar, summed it up nicely when she said, “The very fact that such discussions are taking place, with a large participation from men, was a positive sign that change was possible.”