According to the new set of contracts, the likes of Karun Nair and Jayant Yadav are set to earn a retainer amount of Rs 1 crore for the next year – double of what skipper Mithali Raj will make for leading the women’s team, despite neither of the men having represented India for about a year now. It is not about who brings in more money; rather, the exaggerated gap only ensures women cricketers in India cannot hope to receive the kind of support the men take for granted. On this Women’s Day, the incomplete tale of Hamida Banu’s life and Dutee Chand’s continuing struggle should motivate us to recover, cherish and protect the histories of women in Indian sport. Only then can we expect to afford the respect our female athletes deserve, argues this sports writer.In Anthony Quinn’s breezy novel, Half of the Human Race, a suffragette falls in love with a cricketer only to discover the politics he espouses is at odds with her beliefs. Eventually, through a series of woeful events, he comes to reassess his world-view and appreciate the struggle which made and remade his love interest.
It was the struggle for women’s suffrage which led to the establishment of Women’s Day, although the day has come to occupy a broader movement now. As the call for gender equity gathers a wider footprint in mainstream culture, it was a worthy reminder by the BCCI on Wednesday that its employees will not be treated at par anytime soon.
According to the new set of contracts, the likes of Karun Nair and Jayant Yadav are set to earn a retainer amount of Rs 1 crore for the next year – double of what skipper Mithali Raj will make for leading the women’s team, despite neither of the men having represented India for about a year now. It is not about who brings in more money; rather, the exaggerated gap only ensures women cricketers in India cannot hope to receive the kind of support the men take for granted.
Of course, it used to be worse. Diana Edulji—now a member of the Committee of Administrators (CoA) overseeing the BCCI’s administration—and her teammates were asked to pay Rs 10,000 each for participation in the 1982 Cricket World Cup in New Zealand, despite women’s cricket in India attracting huge crowds in the 1970s. While gains have been made, it is rather unfair for a team which finished runner-up at last year’s World Cup to not be appraised fairly.
The cricketers aside, there have been other women have given Indian sport much to cheer about in recent months. Even as the hurdles continue to spring up as if they have a life of their own, the country’s female athletes are setting standards not touched ever before.
While P.V. Sindhu breaks newer ground in badminton, lesser lights have enchanted in no less measure. In 2017, 19-year-old Aditi Ashok delivered a stellar campaign on the elite Ladies’ Professional Golf Tour (LPGA). The Bengaluru-teenager has given ample proof to show that she belongs among the best.
Young stars seem to be leading the way lately. It was only earlier this week that 16-year-old Manu Bhaker grabbed headlines when she reigned champion in the women’s 10m air pistol event at the World Cup in Mexico, becoming the third-youngest shooter ever to win gold at that level. Furthermore, in boxing last year, India recorded its best-ever finish at the women’s World Youth Championships with five gold medals.
Not that the older hands are too far away. Last week, Navjot Kaur walked into the history books when she became the first Indian woman to win a gold medal at the Asian Wrestling Championships whereas the likes of MC Mary Kom, Deepika Kumari, Sakshi Malik, Dipa Karmakar, among others, continue to sustain the lofty reputations that they have built over the years.
But there’s one superstar whose name is never afforded similar respect. At the Rio Olympics in 2016, Dutee Chand was among the qualifiers for the 100m sprint event – a rare achievement for Indian athletics. And yet, it is her battle off-the-track which influences our understanding of what it means to be a woman in sport today.
Chand’s medical condition of hyperandrogenism, elevated levels of the male sex hormone testosterone, has marked her out. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) maintains that this imparts an unfair advantage to her. Yet, to this date, the governing body and sports scientists have not been able to prove their claim; the state of limbo allowing 22-year-old Chand and the South African runner Caster Semenya to perform at the international level.
While Semenya took hormone-suppressing drugs when the spectre of a ban hung over her, Chand refused to entertain the idea and took the IAAF to the Court of Arbitration for Sport instead - earning an interim victory for intersex athletes. The sprinter’s battle is much more about participation in elite-level athletics; it has led to wider debates about gender, skin colour (women of colour have been the target of the IAAF’s regulations) and fairness in sport.
In her childhood, the Odisha girl was considered crazy by her neighbours for running all the time. The statement is revealing of the attitudes which prevail towards women and their participation in sport in India. Chand’s insistence to run, though, has also offered an opportunity to reassess other women in Indian sport.
The story of Hamida Banu could be a good starting point. The ‘Amazon from Aligarh’ was a wrestler in the 1950s who shocked the sport’s patrons by challenging her male counterparts for a bout to decide her future husband. After a few wins, Banu became the subject of protests, jeers and stoning as her success weakened the myth of male physical supremacy. Despite attempts to ban her, her involvement in wrestling continued. However, Banu’s story was lost midway in the pages of history.
On this Women’s Day, the incomplete tale of Hamida Banu’s life and Dutee Chand’s continuing struggle should motivate us to recover, cherish and protect the histories of women in Indian sport. Only then can we expect to afford the respect our female athletes deserve.
Priyansh is a sports writer in New Delhi. He tweets @GarrulousBoy.