“That’s not for girls.”

“Do you want to play with the boys.”

“Don’t do that, you will get hurt.”

In a society where marriage is still considered the ultimate social achievement for a woman, anything outside the purview of traditional female roles is frowned upon. And unfortunately even in today’s world to be an athlete is still very much a male territory. This strong tie between masculinity and athleticism makes life even harder for women athletes, who besides dealing with a lack of facilities, opportunities and funding, also have to counter social prejudices.

Sindhu all smiles after her silver medal win.

It is precisely for this reason that the 2016 Rio Olympics have become special. Three young women from three different parts of the country brought our nation to a standstill. In a country where only a handful of male cricketers have mattered, Dipa Karmakar, Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu fought gallantly for the nation on the world stage. They captivated us, they moved us. We laughed with them and cried with them. They had a grip on us.

Sakshi Malik after winning bronze. AFP

But the beauty of it all was that they were not doing this to prove a point. They were just out there having fun. Doing what they love doing. Doing what they have always wanted to do. And in that very act they did more than just win a medal (or come very close to it). They opened doors and helped shatter stereotypes.

The real benefit of women playing sports is not the obvious physical or mental. It is instead the ability to fight patriarchy. As the author Jenny Nordberg says, “The real reason why most conservatives do not allow women to play sports is because once a woman realises the true strength of her body, she realises that she is capable of doing anything.”

Dipa Karmakar narrowly missed a bronze. AFP

Even the United Nations has come to recognize how deeply sports can impact women: "Girls who play a sport are more likely to participate in school and society. When women and girls get used to winning on the playing field, they are more likely to step up in the classroom, the boardroom, and as leaders in society."

Hopefully Rio 2016 will be a turning point for Indian society. It has given India women to emulate. These women are the heroes that we as a society probably don’t deserve, but desperately need. Because very politely they tell a country of a billion plus… you have always prayed for a son, look what your daughters can do for you.

Feature image source: Agencies