According to the 2011 population census, Haryana as a state had the lowest child sex ratio (834 to 1000). Even in 2018, this northern state of India is plagued with cases of female foeticide. However, the same state gave India its first female wrestler to win an Olympic medal, Sakshi Malik.
Sakshi Malik was born and raised in the Rohtak district of Haryana, in a village called Mokhra. This was a region where wrestling wasn’t considered as a sport for girls. Before getting married,the only things the girls are expected to is “study a bit and then do household chores.” And after getting married their next job was to get busy “taking care of their husband and babies.”
Even though Sakshi’s parents who were a modern family supporting a girls aspirations for becoming a wrestler, local villagers used to point fingers when she wore shorts or wrestled with boys. Nevertheless, Sakshi continued with her intensive training, juggling between her academics and then getting a job with Indian Railways. The golden moment of her came at age 23, whn Sakshi Malik became the first female wrestler from India to win an Olympic medal.
Sakshi Malik got inspired by her Grandfather to take up the mud sport
Parents of Sakshi Malik were never a part of any sport, unlike her other counterpart Sania Mirza, Geeta Phogat or Dipa Karmakar. Sakshi’s father was a bus conductor with the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), and her mother worked as a supervisor at a local health clinic. It was her grandfather who inspired the Haryanvi girl to take up wrestling. She use to watch him practice, train wrestlers and coach them at his “Akhada.”
Sakshi Malik faced criticism from her village for taking up a sport “Not Meant for Girls”
A young Sakshi Malik began her training at age 12, at an Akhada in Chhotu Ram Stadium in Rohtak. Her parents, looking at her talent arranged her coaching and also took care of her diet and nutrition. Malik’s first coach, Ishwar Singh Dahiya, faced objections from the villagers, when he started training the young girl. As a patriarchal society, girls in the village were expected to be confined to their homes.
Sakshi Malik improved her game by Wrestling with Male Wrestlers
Coming from a male bastion region where wrestling wasn’t for girls, Sakshi had to wrestle with boys to improve her game. This became possible because of Malik’s quickness in learning and improvisation. She and coach Dahiya had to overcome the stigma of getting the opposite genders to wrestler with each other. Dahiya particularly made her fight with male opponents to upgrade her game further. Despite her talent and the zeal to improve, the locals were often mean to her that sometimes challenged her self-belief.
Not just Sakshi or her coach Dahiya, but the parents were also criticized for their decision to get a girl trained in a sport like wrestling. They were warned by villagers that their daughter would develop “puffed-out cauliflower ears.” This is common among wrestlers, The people further told her parents that she would become undesirable to potential husbands. Fortunately, this didn’t deter the parents from giving her all the best support in her endeavour.
Sakshi Malik got good support from her School/College and her first job
Sakshi Malik went to Vaish Public School in Rohtak, and completed her college studies from Vaish Girls College. The head of her school/college were empathetic with Malik’s aspirations in wrestling. They helped her to ease out the academic pressure and concentrate on wrestling.
Subsequently, Malik completed her master’s degree in physical education from Maharshi Dayanand University. After this she took up a job with the Indian Railways in the Delhi division commercial department.
Sakshi Malik kick starts professional Bouts in 2010
Recognizing her talent, Malik was made part of the JSW Sports Excellence Programme. The same foundation supported other famous Indian female wrestlers like the Phogat clan of Geeta, Babita and Vinesh.
As a professional wrestler, Sakshi Malik tasted first international success at the 2010 Junior World Championships.She clinched the bronze medal in the 58 kg freestyle event. At the start of her professional career her inspiration was wrestler Sushil Kumar, who had won the bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The big moment for Sakshi Malik came at 2014 Commonwealth Games
By 2014, India had built a reputation as a wrestling powerhouse when wrestlers Yogeshwar Dutt and Sushil Kumar won medals at the 2012 London Olympics. The medals in wrestling at the Olympic Games in 2008 and 2012 kept Malik inspired to win her own Olympic medal one day.
The year 2014 was a standout for Malik. She started it by winning the gold medal in the 60 kg category of the Dave Schultz International Tournament. This golden feat was followed by her winning the silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. However, at the 2014 World Wrestling Championships in Tashkent, Malik couldn’t make it past the Round of 16. But a fighter at heart, Sakshi Malik bounced back in May 2015 by winning the bronze medal at the 2015 Asian Wrestling Championships in Doha.
When Sakshi Malik was not the first choice of WFI for 2016 Olympics
Sakshi was one of three female wrestlers from India to qualify for the Rio Olympics. Even though she’d had an impressive track record, Malik was not the first, but the second choice of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) for 2016 Rio Olympics.
WFI’s first choice was the famous wrestler Geeta Phogat, who became India’s first female gold medalist at the 2010, Commonwealth Games. Geeta was also the first Indian female wrestler to qualify for the Olympics in 2012. Sakshi Malik made it to the the 2016 Olympics by reaching the finals of the 58 kg category at the 2016 World Wrestling Olympic Qualification tournament in Istanbul, Turkey.
The Biggest Moment Sakshi Malik Career
According to experts Vinesh Phogat was India’s biggest hope for a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Vinesh had won her country a gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and a silver medal at the 2015 Asian Championships. Unfortunately for her the Olympics ended due to a gruesome injury.
Sakshi Malik won round of 32 and the round of 16 matches at Rio games, but lost in the quarterfinals to Russian wrestler Valeria Koblova. But fortunately, Koblova reached the finals, which made Sakshi Malik eligible for the ‘repechage round.’
According to the repechage rules, the wrestlers who lose to the eventual finalists fight it out for the bronze medal.
Malik in her journey towards Olympic greatness, defeated Mongolian wrestler Pürevdorjiin Orkhon in her first bout. She then faced Kyrgyz wrestler Aisuluu Tynybekova for the bronze medal match. Tynybekova at that time was the reigning Asian champion and took a unbeatable lead of 0–5 in the bout.
But for Sakshi, her aggressive style of play kept her hopes alive till the last three minutes of the match. During the last 30 seconds of the bout, she could hear her coach say “Sakshi, attack, attack karo”!. This is where the tables eventually turned in the final nine seconds of the match. Sakshi Malik created history by winning the match 8–5, and becoming India’s first female wrestler to win an Olympic medal.
On the penultimate day Sakshi had fought a total of five bouts to finish on the podium. With this she became the fourth female Olympic medalist from India, after weightlifter Karnam Malleswari (2000, Sydney), boxer MC Mary Kom (2012, London) and badminton player Saina Nehwal (2012, London). PV Sindhu was the the fifth female Olympic medallist at the 2016 event.
Accolade and awards poured in for Sakshi Malik after 2016 Olympic Feat
After Sakshi won the bronze medal at the Rio Olympics, she was promoted from a senior clerk to a gazetted officer by the Indian Railways. Malik was also appointed as the wrestling director of her alma mater, the Maharshi Dayanand University in Rohtak. But most importantly, Sakshi Malik was honoured with the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award by the government of India, even before getting an Arjuna Award.
What can budding Indian athletes learn from Sakshi Malik’s Story
In simple words, the success story of Sakshi Malik is a prime example of the power of listening to your inner voice, and not getting lost in the noise around you. Sakshi’s coach, her parents, and the college she studied in played a major role in her success. They nurtured and and supported her her whenever she needed them to.
But, as a young male or female athlete, what you can learn from her is the self-belief. As great Muhammad Ali used to say: “There’s nothing wrong with getting knocked down, as long as you get right back up.”
Another vital lesson we, the Indian public can learn from her is making a choice to think beyond the social norms and cultural differences that come across in our society. Sakshi Malik decided to take up wrestling, trained with male wrestlers and gave her best shot to a sport that wasn’t supposed to be taken up by girls. Due her sacrifices, success was bound to come to come as she never really took things seriously, but calmly.
Remember one thing, never take yourself too much seriously; Life is too short, enjoy the best moments!