Dressed in blue even off the field, it was an emotional moment for the Indian Women's Cricket Captain in Chennai on Sunday as she inaugurated Natural Salon's first 'Enable' outlet. The services at this beauty parlour in Indra Nagar will be offered by 14 differently-abled men and women, for the first time in the salon's history.
And Mithali Raj made it clear why she understood the struggle of these employees, perhaps better than most others.
"Just like how the women's cricket team struggles for gender equality, you too struggle to prove your capabilities every day," said Mithali emphatically to the employees who surrounded her.
When TNM caught up with the captain on the sidelines of this event, the woman who led India at two world cups did not hold back on the large strides and challenges that women's cricket is currently facing.
"Our visibility has significantly increased after the World Cup. Our standards have improved remarkably and people have noticed and appreciated this," admits Mithali with a smile. "ICC's marketing has worked wonders and now people want a first hand experience of watching our games," she adds.
Mithali is proud of her team and why wouldn't she be?
In July, the women's cricket team made it to the finals of the world cup and it seemed that they could do no wrong with merely 11 runs left to be scored of 18 balls. But much to the dismay of the country that was now keenly waiting for its women in blue to bring back the cup, India lost its last seven wickets before it could reach its target. The disappointment was crushing but the women had made it clear that the country will now have to sit straight and notice them. Mithali now in fact holds the extraordinary title of highest run scorer in the ODIs.
But even all this, says the captain, is not enough to erase the gender lines.
"It is always a struggle for women in sport and that is because of the mindset in this society," says Mithali. "There has to be gender equality for women to join sports, and parents must encourage this. We are hoping our success will lead to more awareness and enrollment in women's cricket. More youngsters must have the opportunity to play the game," she adds.
The Indian captain minced no words as she made her appeal.
"The career of a woman has traditionally been short for several reasons. But now, we have all become more career oriented," she explains. "Don't subjugate women and force them to get married. I have seen so much talent wasted because of pressure from parents and in-laws," she says earnestly.
Mithali also holds the rare distinction of playing cricket for the last 17 years and there seems to be no stopping her from achieving more on the field. When asked if the women's team is waiting to begin its own Premier league with 20-20 matches, the Indian captain smiles.
"Well that requires a lot of consideration and discussion in terms of franchises owners and the like," says Mithali. In the past, she has been vocal in her support for an exclusive tournament such as the IPL for women. "It is not possible for us to play with the men because a large part of their game depends on strength and while the standards of have women's cricket has improved vastly, we do not rely on physical strength as much," she adds.