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From Strength to Glory: The Evolution of Women in Indian Sports & Their Shining Legacy

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Women form the bedrock of families and society. Despite being subjected to societal perceptions of inferiority worldwide, women consistently push boundaries to surpass their male counterparts. Indian female athletes have actively sought liberation from prejudiced norms, social disregard, and cultural values, forging successful paths in their respective careers.  Indian women athletes have made remarkable strides in sports, showcasing their talent and determination on both national and international stages. Amidst the prevailing perceptions of women’s inferiority, some of the exceptional female athletes have emerged as beacons of inspiration, igniting the aspirations of future generations.

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History of Women in Indian Sports

The history of women’s sports in India is marked by significant achievements, overcoming societal barriers and encouraging future generations. In the early 20th century, women’s participation in sports was limited due to societal restrictions and cultural norms. The 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki was one such event where four Indian Women, Nilima Ghose, Mary D’Souza Sequeira, Arati Saha, and Dolly Nazir scripted history.

 The Evolution of Women in Indian Sports & Their Shining Legacy | KreedOn
Arati Saha, Image Source: The Siasat Daily

The new millennium marked a significant turning point for Indian women in sports, with a historic moment occurring at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. It was during this event that the iconic Karnam Malleswari secured a bronze medal, becoming the first Indian weightlifter to accomplish such a feat.

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Notably, Karnam Malleswari’s victory held even greater significance as she became the first Indian woman to ever claim an Olympic medal, setting a monumental milestone for women’s sports in the country. P.T. Usha, also known as the “Queen of Indian Track and field”, won numerous medals and set records in the 1980s and ’90s. This made her an inspiration to many aspiring athletes.


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Pioneers of Indian Women in Sports

 The Evolution of Women in Indian Sports & Their Shining Legacy | KreedOn
Nilima Ghose, Image Source: The Siasat Daily

Indian women have consistently displayed their indomitable spirit and resilience in the face of adversity. The 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki saw four remarkable women represent India: Nilima Ghose (Sprinter), Mary D’Souza Sequeira (Athletics & Hockey), Arati Saha (Swimmer), and Dolly Nazir (Swimmer). Despite not winning any medals, their passion, determination, and desire to ensure Indian women were not unrepresented on the global sports stage were commendable.

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With limited support and resources, these athletes had to independently navigate the challenges. They sought funds through community donations and various means to finance their participation. They lacked coaches, support staff, and the luxuries of modern sports facilities. Handling their own training, healing injuries, managing travel arrangements, and competing against legendary athletes, they defied all odds with sheer grit and determination. Their inspiring journey serves as a testament to the strength and resolve of Indian women in sports.

The Rise of Women’s participation in Olympics

Image Source- pwc.in

The involvement of women in sports has witnessed remarkable growth over the years, transitioning from no participation in the inaugural Summer Olympics to nearly 50% representation of female athletes at the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Game Changers: Women Revolutionizing Sports

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Karnam Malleswari, Geeta Phogat, Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza, Mithali Raj, Deepika Kumari, Chhanda Gayen, Sharmila Nicollet, and Kunjarani Devi are just a few examples of inspiring female athletes who have brought about significant changes in the world of sports. Let us look at few of the most influential women sports personalities in India who changed the Sports’ Landscape.

  • Karnam Malleswari, a renowned weightlifter, made history as the first woman to win an Olympic medal in 2000. Her remarkable achievements also include being honored with the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award in 1995 and receiving the Padma Shri award in 1999.
  • Sania Mirza, the sole Indian female tennis player to secure six major championships, has not only earned esteemed accolades like the Padma Shri and Arjuna Awards but has also motivated countless women to showcase their talents and work hard for their dreams. 
  • Overcoming gender prejudice, MC Mary Kom, aptly known as the Unbreakable, stands as the only female boxer securing five world amateur boxing titles and to secure medals in every amateur boxing category. Honored with the Padma Shri, Arjuna Award for Boxing, and Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award, her remarkable achievements continue to inspire youth female players. 
  • Renowned freestyle wrestler, Geeta Phogat, holds the distinction of being the first Indian wrestler to win a gold medal in the Commonwealth Games (2010). Additionally, she made history as the first female wrestler from India to qualify for the Olympic Games. Geeta’s remarkable achievements have elevated Indian wrestling to new heights, emphasizing that this domain is just as much hers as it is for male wrestlers.

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  • Mithali Raj, the captain of India’s women’s cricket team in tests and ODIs, holds the distinction of being the first female cricketer in women’s ODIs to surpass 7,000 runs.  Honored with the Padma Shri and named Wisden’s Leading Woman Cricketer in the World, her achievements solidify her status as a role model in the cricketing world. 
  • Saina Nehwal, the first badminton player from India to claim an Olympic medal, not only attained the top world ranking but also made a significant popularity of the sport. Recognized with the Arjuna Award, Padma Shri, and Padma Bhushan, her accomplishments are a testament to her impact on the sport. 

Witnessing the Transformation 

From the time when women’s sports was neglected in India to the present day, there has been a remarkable shift in the recognition and achievements of Indian women athletes on the international stage. Overcoming societal barriers and limited resources, these trailblazing sports women have demonstrated their skill, dedication, and determination, bringing immense pride to the nation.

The achievements of Indian women athletes across various sports disciplines are truly commendable. From the realm of cricket to badminton, boxing to wrestling, and athletics to shooting, Indian women have consistently demonstrated their prowess and competitive spirit. 

Their achievements signify a shift towards gender equality in sports. By excelling in traditionally male-dominated sports, these women have challenged societal norms and stereotypes, proving that gender is not a barrier to take part and succeed in sports. Their achievements have empowered women across India, encouraging them to participate in sports and pursue their dreams with confidence. This growing representation of women in sports has not only paved the way for future generations but has also brought about a positive change in societal perceptions of women’s capabilities.


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Rising Stars: Current Generation of Women Athletes

 The Evolution of Women in Indian Sports & Their Shining Legacy | KreedOn
Hima Dad, Image Source: DNA India

For a long time, P.T. Usha, Mary Kom, Sania Mirza, etc. have led the way for women’s sports in India, inspiring countless females to embrace sports. Following in their footsteps, the likes of Hima Das, Manika Batra, PV Sindhu, Deepika Kumari emerged as a highly anticipated success story for India. From Asian Games, Commonwealth Games to Olympics, women in the present generation have made an indelible mark in sports history.

Conclusion

Indian women athletes have risen above societal constraints, achieving remarkable success in various sports and serving as powerful symbols of empowerment and gender equality. Their achievements not only inspire young girls to dream big but also challenge existing gender norms in sports. By embracing and supporting women’s sports, India is taking significant steps towards creating a more inclusive and equal society, where talent and dedication triumph over gender biases.


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