When it comes to giving credit, the world is much harsher towards women, that’s not news. You have to do a lot more to get a lot less and to top that, you must express constant gratitude for something you have rightfully earned.
This unfairness and those expectations ought to be tiring. But our women athletes go out there on the field each time – to win – but more importantly, to give their sport everything they have. “Do we appreciate them enough for the things they do?” is a question that answers itself before you can even finish asking.
This isn’t an article to portray our women athletes as helpless, because God knows they are strong as hell. In many ways, this isn’t about them at all. This is about us, the people who make up this “sports-loving” country. What will it take for us to appreciate them enough for the things they do?
It’s not that Jhulan Goswami isn’t decorated, but that she isn’t decorated nearly as much as she should be. It took an ‘A-lister’ biopic on her career for the country to collectively wake up to her excellence when that should have happened long ago. Jhulan is not only one of India’s best bowlers, but also the world. She has taken 44 wickets in the 12 Test matches she has played and has an average of 17.36 and an economy of 2.02.
Her achievements go beyond numbers, though. She is a trailblazer, who has represented India for 20 years. In this time, she has made an immense contribution to the game, which includes playing a huge role in taking the team to the 2017 World Cup final.
2. Dipika Pallikal
Easily our best squash player, Dipika is the first person from the country to break into the world top 10. This happened back in 2012, and since then she has added many feathers to her cap. But still, we do not read about her much. A big medal is followed by some headlines but she has been pretty consistent otherwise too, and it would be wonderful if people discussed and analysed her game with the intensity that such brilliance warrants.
3. Manika Batra
Recipient of the Khel Ratna award, and the number one table tennis player of India, Manika has many accolades to her name. This includes 2 Commonwealth Games gold medals, and 3 in South Asian Games. She also won a bronze in the 2018 Asian Games. Table tennis rarely gets focused attention from media but Manika has kept her head down and stayed on her toes, literally. She is a legitimate star.
4. Tania Sachdev
Tania earned the title of ‘International Master’ in 2008 and became the Asian Women Chess Champion in 2007. She also won the World Youth Chess Championships in 1998 in the U12 category. Along with Humpy Koneru, Tania has been the face of chess for the country after Viswanathan Anand.
5. Rani Rampal
When our hockey team reached the semi-final at the Olympics, 2021, the nation went on an overdrive. Which was understandable. What isn’t understandable is the indifference the team and the captain faced before that – and sadly but predictably – are facing after. Rani is not only a brilliant player and a skipper, she is also a morally inclined person who confidently took the side of her teammate Vandana Katariya after the latter faced a casteist attack. She deserves so much more from us.
6. Aditi Ashok
Aditi Ashok got painfully close to winning a medal at the Tokyo Olympics and had she succeeded, she would have created history. It was a loss that personally hurt the most. However, medals should not be treated as the sole parameters of success. The 23-year-old is a wonderful player and has a long career ahead. We hope that India does right by her.
7. Anjali Bhagwat
I grew up hearing her name in yearly conversations on news or at home. It was only later that I realised she deserved more than that. She has won 4 gold medals at the Commonwealth Games, and a staggering 9 at the Commonwealth Championships (these include team events). Overall, she has 61 medals to her name, and that is an insane achievement if you ask me.
8. Oinam Bembem Devi
Oinam made her debut at the age of 15 and went on to have an illustrious career that also saw her leading the Indian football team. Under her leadership, India won at the South Asian Games in 2010 and SAFF Women’s Championship in 2012. She is one of the biggest football icons to have emerged from India and it is truly hurtful when people are clueless about her contributions.
… and the list continues.
Hate to use the phrase “woman athlete” but here, the conversation is about gender, and unfortunately, how one gets an upper hand over another. Waiting for the day when everyone representing India can be called an “Indian athlete”.