There's a reason we've chosen August as Sisters' Month. And it's not because we don't like brothers, or men. What we don't like is the narrative that a brother should promise to protect and that a sister needs protection, that a family is incomplete without a boy child, and that brother-less families are somehow rudderless, without a guiding light to navigate them through difficult times.
So all through this month of Raksha Bandhan, we will share Stories of Sisterhood; of ordinary, and extraordinary, sisters who love each other and have made the other better in subtle ways. Share your stories, poems, pictures and suggestions with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
By now the story of the Phogat sisters wrestling the gender barrier in Haryana has become something of a media sensation. But for those of you who have just emerged from your rock, here's a brief run down.
Mahavir Bhogat is the sarpanch of village Balali in Haryana. His decision to train his daughters in a male dominated contact sport like wrestling - in a state where women are expected to keep their heads covered at all times - has also turned him into a poster boy for women emancipation.
India's Geeta Phogat (in blue) in action against Australia's Emily Bensted in the final of women's 55kg freestyle wrestling category during the 2010 XIX Commonwealth Games. Image by BCCL
There are six Phogat sisters who are breaking down the doors of dangals across the country: Geeta, Babita, Ritu, Vinesh, Priyanka and Sangita, in order of age. Vinesh and Priyanka are the daughters of Mahavir's slain brother, and were adopted by Mahavir after their father's death. Geeta, Babita and Vinesh have each won Gold for India at the Commonwealth Games (Geeta in 2010, Babita and Vinesh in 2014). In 2012, Geeta became the first woman wrestler to represent India in the Olympics. Meanwhile, the three younger siblings have been on a medal winning spree at junior wrestling events, such as the Asian Wrestling Championships for Cadets (under 15).
The Phogat household is not made up of daughters alone - they also have a younger brother. It is telling that while the boys in Mahavir Phogat's extended family have been unable to withstand his strict training regime, the girls have flourished. Not surprisingly, the media narrative around the sisters has largely focused on the role that their father played in moulding them into champion wrestlers. What gets overlooked, or perhaps even deliberately ignored, is the importance of opportunity and the value of sisterhood in this remarkable real life saga.
Talking about how the success of Geeta and Babita helped change perceptions in their village, Vinesh had this to say:
There was pressure on us before Geeta won the CWG gold. Village elders and even my grandmother used to say that no family will want their daughters-in-law to play such a sport. But now, we're heroes.
The buzz around the Phogat sisters amplified when Aamir Khan signed up to play Mahavir Phogat in the upcoming Dangal. A Google search for the movie will tell you all about Aamir Khan's regimen to beef up for his character and his catchup with the Phogat family, but very little about the real heroines of the story. The four Phogat sisters (Geeta, Babita, Ritu and Sangita) will be played by Fatima Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra, Zaira Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar.
Why Dangal? The wrestling world is made up of akharas (training grounds) and dangals (wrestling competitions). Both have been pucca male bastions. Until now. The remarkable success of the Phogat sisters is inspiring more and more women in Haryana to demolish yet another glass ceiling. One only hopes that this remarkable story of sisterhood is not turned into a paean to the father's passion and struggles, played as he is by a more famous actor,
Not The First Ones
The Phogat sisters are not the first bunch of sisters-wrestlers in India. That credit goes to Deepika and Sonika, daughters of legendary wrestler and coach Chandgi Ram. It was Chandgi Ram's drive to get his daughters into wrestling that inspired Mahavir Phogat to fill up his akhara with girls. Read more here and watch the two eldest sisters on AK's Satyamev Jayate.
Jab ladki Pradhan Mantri ban sakti hai, toh ladki pahalwan kyun nahin ban sakti?
We will be publishing our Stories of Sisterhood all through the month on HP Blogs and our website. Follow us on Facebook & Instagram for more sisterly inspiration, and join us in celebrating a relationship of equals this Raksha Bandhan - one where brothers and sisters (or sisters and sisters), both tie a Rakhi around the other's wrist, both promise to respect and watch out for the other, and both reminisce over the years of laughter and shared memories they've lived through.