Five World Championships. Four Asian Women’s Championships. And a host of medals in other events. An athlete with such a resume would be revered in any another country. He / She would be given the best facilities and best infrastructure to train in. Companies would run to him / her for endorsements. And more than all that, love, care and everything else he / she would have yearned for would be showered upon. But not in India. It took an Olympic bronze medal and 12 long years for Mary Kom, her sport and her state to be recognized in her own country. But why? Let’s look at it in detail.
Manipur, her birthplace has suffered from a crippling insurgency since the 1960s. Most of the time there are economic blockades which result in situations when people have to manage for weeks without food and water. This DOES reach the news. There are more than 34 (both violent and non-violent) militant groups fighting for multiple reasons from creating a land of Nagas along with Nagaland to completely taking Manipur away from India and forming a separate nation. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which was implemented by the Army in all the North-Eastern states in 1958 to counter this insurgency has been blamed as one of the prime reasons for it continuing even today. And this DOES reach the news as well.
But when a diminutive girl took to a sport like boxing at the age of 17, it didn’t make the news. Obviously how could it? She had to hide this from everyone including her parents. For a country which prides itself on making children study first and think about other things later, one can only imagine how her parents must have reacted to her taking interest in a sport. And that too a sport like boxing which women in India hadn’t even known exists at that time lest alone play it. But she was different. As she began to win state and national level titles, her parents and the other Manipuri’s started to realize that in Mary we have a real talent.
But our national media, our government and most of us didn’t bother. Only if our mind wasn’t filled with stereotypes like terrorism, HIV, drugs, the looks of the people, would we have actually thought about some good news coming out of the seven sister states. All of us seem so preoccupied to make that as a no – go zone of this country, that we don’t even bother about it anymore beyond these stereotypes. Its as if the people there don’t exist as part of India.
Whether its her resolve to fight against all odds or her will power to rise up from obscurity to stardom, whether its her dedication to her craft of packing a punch or her determination to ensure that she could box again after having two children, Mary has always shown the way. Not everyone can win a World Boxing Championship. And for someone who has won five on the trot including one immediately after coming back from the sabbatical taken for giving birth, she has to be legendary or as many call ‘Magnificent Mary’. And yet, even after all this she is humility personified.
What makes Mary’s story even more legendary is the fact that she went about doing her own thing for more than a decade. Despite knowing she would face a lot of problems in Manipur with respect to sports infrastructure, lack of financial sport, daily problems like lack of electricity and much more, she never complained and worked and worked as hard as she could do. And who says hard work doesn’t pay? She was the face of introducing Women’s boxing in the Olympics. What was even more inspiring was the fact that Mary whose category is the 46 or 48kg had to go up to the 51kg flyweight category because that was the lowest at the Games. But she did so by practicing rigorously for two years with male boxers taller and much heavier than her. That’s what you call the will to succeed against all odds.
We have never cared for any of the North Eastern states. But when an athlete from those parts brings an Olympic medal, we rush to claim it as ours. We rush to say that we are proud Indians. Have we ever given them a chance to say that they are proud Indians as well. They have been waiting for years to say the same. They have been waiting for years to be treated on par with their counterparts in Delhi. Maybe, once the euphoria of Mary’s victory dies down, we would still address any person from any of the North Eastern states as ‘chinki’. Maybe we will still hear of incidents related to rapes and racism against girls and guys from the North East.
And that’s why Mary’s apology for not bringing home the Gold was like the perfect slap on all our faces. A slap to make us apologize to her for not recognizing her, her state and the entire North East since one can remember.
Mary, you make every Indian proud!!