#DelhiMoves Fitness

This akhara in Delhi trains India’s future women wrestlers

Young girls training at the Guru Prem Nath Akhara

Young girls training at the Guru Prem Nath Akhara   | Photo Credit: V.V. Krishnan

The Guru Prem Nath wrestling centre in the city is overcoming a sporting taboo

Amidst the hustle and bustle of Gur Mandi in North Delhi, is the Guru Prem Nath akhara, a regular two-storey building. The reception area has photos of wrestlers like Divya Kakran and Unnati Rathore on its paint-peeling wall.

On the ground floor is a traditional mud pit, made soft with turmeric, milk, curd, henna, and gravel-less mud rolled together. On the first floor, is a modern wrestling mat, where kids warm up in groups and practise their moves in four-minute sessions. They halt and greet every visitor who walks in.

Vikram Kumar Sonkar — he’s a former wrestler whose father, the Arjuna awardee wrestler Prem Nath founded the space — is presently the head coach and owner of the akhara, and does not charge the trainees. The akhara, adopted by Sports Authority of India, needs more attention.

“Every five years, the mat has to be replaced with a new one to avoid injuries. The mat costs around ₹3-3.5 lakh. We have been waiting for the new one for a very long time. The current condition of the mat can cause injury to the wrestlers,” says Sonkar.

Regardless, the 46-year-old akhara is today breaking long-held gender-based taboos and conventions: Girls outnumber boys here.

“There are 80 girls out of 150 students. They are very talented and most of the girls have defeated boys in their villages. The 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Divya Kakran is still my student, whenever she is in Delhi, she trains here,” says Sonkar, who coached the Greco-Roman wrestling team in the 2014 Asian Games.

Badges of honour

One of the reasons that female participation in wrestling has been slow to catch on, is regular physical injury and bruising. Deformed, or “cauliflower ears” is a common sight with wrestlers. But cousins Shivani Singh and Simran Pawar say that it is “a matter of pride” for wrestlers to have one.

This has also kept families away from ‘sending’ girls to the mat. But Kavita and Rani, mothers of Neha, 13, and Sheetal, 14, accompany them to the akhara daily. “Initially I used to be scared about Neha getting injured but one can get injured at home also,” says Kavita. “So, I am not afraid of it any more. I give her massages when we go back home to soothe her muscles,” she adds. They came from Nahari in Sonepat to Azadpur in Delhi, three months ago, for training.

Miles to go

Neha’s family is an example of those who have moved from neighbouring towns to be closer to the Prem Nath akhara, to devote more time towards learning.

Many of the students here also make long daily commutes, from places like Burari, a town in the North Delhi district.

Sonkar refers to Manya Rajput, 10, who has won the title of “Nau Sherwaan” (nine bouts in succession) and claims that she can be “the next big thing in wrestling”. Another gifted girl is Anjali Sharma, 11, he says.

The pride of the akhara is the 18-year-old Unnati Rathore, who comes from a family of wrestlers.

“I want to make this akhara, my family, and my country proud,” she says despite nursing an operated left shoulder while fighting in a competition six months ago. Rathore likes India’s 2020 Olympic medal hopeful, Vinesh Phogat, but she refers to United States’ wrestler Helen Louise Maroulis, a gold medallist in the 53 kg category, at the 2016 Rio Olympics, as her favourite.

The growing number of girls wanting to pursue wrestling is a sign of the times. It is no more a taboo and, as Sonkar observes, women wrestlers are set to bring glory in times to come at the world level.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 8:32:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fitness/this-akhara-in-delhi-trains-indias-future-women-wrestlers/article30870506.ece

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