Six years later, Geeta’s journey in the sport has been one of great uncertainty and dashed hopes.

Dangal trailer reminds us of Phogat sisters success but heres what happened after Geeta won goldDangal poster (L), Geeta Phogat/Facebook (R)
news Sports Saturday, October 22, 2016 - 10:18

The trailer of Aamir Khan-starrer Dangal, which hit screens on Thursday, brought the spotlight back on wrestler Geeta Phogat and her sisters. Geeta was the first female wrestler to win a gold medal for India in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in the 55-kg category. Six years later, however, Geeta’s journey in the sport has been one of great uncertainty and dashed hopes.

The story of Geeta’s and her sisters’ journey out of the patriarchal and regressive surroundings in Haryana’s Bilali village is nothing short of inspiring though. Mahavir Phogat, father to Geeta, Sangita, Ritu and Babita, adopted his slain brother’s daughters Vinesh and Priyanka, and trained all of them to wrestle. With opposition within the village against the idea of letting the girls wrestle, Mahavir’s decision to have them practice with boys caused even more trouble. But Mahavir had little choice: there were no other girls to practice wrestling with.

The fact that the Phogat sisters belonged to a land-owning family and Mahavir was the sarpanch did act as a cushion, but the journey cannot be called easy. The refrain of “Who will marry these girls?” apart, even the girls’ grandmother did not approve of their sporting career. It was only after the victory in 2010 at the Commonwealth Games that they found acceptance in the village. “Now my grandmother, who used to want sons, says that she does not really want boys anymore. She says I'm the lion of the family, Geeta told CS Monitor in 2012.

But once the glory of the 2010 victory had passed, the pressure to achieve new heights in the sport began to build again. In 2012, Geeta became the first Indian wrestler to represent India at the Olympics, but did not fare well. A national daily headlined her loss as “bowing meekly” out of the London games. 

Adding to her loss, Geeta’s sporting career was put on hold in 2014 after she hurt her knee at a training camp. Having to undergo surgery, her training and competing schedule were quite severely affected.

Though she made a comeback of sorts by winning the bronze at the Asian Championship in May 2015, Geeta told Ritu Sejwal of TOI that having to sit on the sidelines had made her restless for victory. “I used to watch Babita and Vinesh win medals. I was happy for my sisters but at the same time I felt bad for not being a part of the contingent,” she said. She added that she regretted not defending her gold at Glasgow Commonwealth Games and missing the Incheon Asian Games. “I’m itching to return to winning ways,” she said.

On the comeback trail, Geeta set her sights on the Rio Olympics as the stage for finally making her mark. However, both she and her sister Babita Kumari forfeited their repechage rounds at the Olympic qualifying tournament in Ullanbator, Mongolia, citing injury concerns. However, failure to inform the United World Wrestling (UWW) delegate about their injuries meant that their forfeiture was counted as an “act of indiscipline”, leading the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) to ban them from the Rio games, along with two other male wrestlers.

Geeta had told Ashish Phadnis of The Golden Sparrow before the Mongolia qualifier that this was supposed to be her last shot at the Olympics, as well as the last year of her career. But she added that she wasn’t going to give up if she didn’t achieve everything she had set out for. “I haven’t achieved what I had dreamt of, and I won’t stop till I achieve it. I may carry on till 2020 if I have to,” she said.

While it remains to be seen if Geeta, now 27, can make a comeback in 2020, a small measure of good news was given to her when she was finally appointed as a DSP of the Haryana Police, an appointment that came after a six-year wait. Geeta had watched other athletes like Mamta Kharab, Ramesh Kumar and Vikas Krishan receive appointments as DSPs, even as her own appeals to the government bore no fruit. She even approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court. 

So it comes as no surprise that Geeta was less than ecstatic about finally getting the appointment: “Hamein aadat ho gayi thi wait karne ki. Sab khush hain par jitni khushi honi chahiye thi, utni nahin hai. (We got used to waiting. We are happy but not as happy as we should have been),” she told Nitin Sharma of the Indian Express

While Dangal is likely to end on the high of victory, we wonder if Geeta and the other Phogat sisters’ will find happily ever afters to match.  

 

(Edited by Rakesh Mehar)

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