At this moment, Sakshi Malik seems like the perfect argument for womanhood. The 23-year-old wrestled every nightmare that patriarchy has gifted us to emerge as the Olympics hero the country has been pining for the whole of last month. Malik has fought her battles without much help from us, most of us didn't even know her name till two days back. Yet, we have quickly and conveniently found in her, what we think is a compelling example of what women represent. Given the heady mixture of grit, strength, talent, ambition and spunk that the young Rohtak wrestler embodies, it is perhaps tempting to hold up Malik as a fine reason why women should exist. Only, women should not have to give a reason why it's a good idea that they exist, or are allowed to thrive.
As snapshots of Malik's face, in various stages of jubilation, flooded social media, her victory struck as more unreal and uplifting because of where she hailed from. And that's Rohtak in Haryana, known for its history of violent crimes against women and an abysmal gender ratio. In 2001, there were only 915 women for every 1,000 men in Rohtak. The most spontaneous public response to Malik's win -- therefore -- hinged on that. "Look what women can do when you allow them to live," we exulted in joy. When cricketer Virender Sehwag tweeted that if women are allowed to live, they are the ones who come to the rescue of the country's pride, the sentiment echoed across social media and turned into a deafening din.
But here's the thing: you don't need to be a potential Olympic champion to deserve to live.
Arguing that women deserve a chance at life and the freedom to choose what they want to do with it because that will ultimately reap rich benefits for the nation's pride, is problematic to say the least. Though one can understand, that these sentiments arise for a mix of exhaustion and anger for the state of women in large swathes of the country, it just ties women's relevance to their material potential. In the simplest terms, the argument translates to this: "Those women who you worry about paying the dowry for, can actually bring you Olympics medals." It's just another way of saying they are not as useless as you think they are. Or buying the right to live with the promise of superlative achievements and its attendant profits.
But is that what we should be fighting for? Or rather, is that the right idiom to fight for the rights of women? The fact is most of the country's women, and most of Haryana's women, are not Malik. Some won't aspire to be her. Some will and will then fail because they aren't good enough. Some will pursue the Malik dream and leave it midway for other humdrum engagements. Some will be the rock in their families. Some will want someone else to be that. Some will make mistakes, bungle or just be ordinary people. And each of them, no matter where they figure in the popular hierarchy of success, will keep deserving to live, to love, to just be.
Let's be giddy with happiness that Sakshi Malik got us our first Olympics medal from Rio. Let us sit back and chuckle while naysayers roast in their own bile. Let us never tire of saying, every girl child deserves to live. But let's not say, that's because she may turn out to be a Sakshi Malik some day.