Bollywood’s Mr. Perfectionist Amir Khan’s ‘Dangal’ (wrestling) is just a glimpse of the culture of wrestling in India’s Phogat family in Haryana. The state has already been earned fame for their love for body contact indoor games like boxing and wrestling. They have already got a legend in the form of Olympic bronze medalist boxer Vijender Singh, who recently defended his WBO Asia Pacific Super middleweight category boxing match. But, it is not boxing which caught the imagination of Indian sports fans, the wrestling has become a religion in Haryana. This state has produced many award winning wrestlers. It was Mahavir Singh Phogat who enlightened the path for the wrestlers from his state.Also Read - Priya Malik Clinches Gold For India at World Cadet Wrestling Championship in Hungary
Wrestling, a male-dominated sport in the state, has observed a revolution after 2000 Olympic when Karnam Maleshwari became the first Indian woman to win a medal in weightlifting. The success of Maleshwari made iconic wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat determined. He has six daughters, so he decided to bring them in wrestling with an ambition to make them world class level wrestler. Also Read - Tokyo 2020, Meet India’s Olympic Medal Hope: Bajrang Punia
In a state where child sex ratio (879 girls per every 1000 boys) raised eyebrows after every census Mahavir Singh Phogat took a brave decision. In Balali village of Haryana, the father of four introduced his six daughters, including two of his deceased brother’s to the sport in village’s akhada. (Dangal: Geeta Phogat’s mom wanted a baby boy) Also Read - Tokyo 2020, Meet India's Olympic Medal Hope: Vinesh Phogat
Mahavir Singh left his state at the age of 16 to train under Padma Shri winning coach Chandgir Ram who made him a national champion. Mahavir used to play in various akhada in villages of Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana which earned him the fame as a successful mercenary wrestler. His coach Chandgir changed his life and influenced his ideology to his life. “Masterji opened my eyes,” Mahavir said in a recent interview. “He used to tell me, “What you are doing for your girls, you will see one day that it will bring you great happiness. So keep doing it, don’t be scared, face your difficulties like you face opponents, and be deaf to the criticism.
Now the Delhi-based Chandigir Ram akhada is the only place in the country where women’s are allowed to train. Mahavir left his Haryana State Electricity Board job to train his six daughters-Geeta, Babita, Ritu, Sangeeta, Vinesh, and Priyanka –who shared many medals among themselves. First four are Mahavir’s own daughters while the remaining two are his deceased brother’s daughters. Their father wanted them to play with boys because there was no other girl in the conservative village to play the sport. Mahavir’s decision to let his daughters play with the boys drew criticism from the villagers, but the determined father didn’t pay any heed to the criticism. “I thought my girls can lead the country in women’s wrestling if I train them properly. So I taught them all the tricks that I knew and then took them to local dangals. But they were not allowed to fight and I was warned to not bring my girls to the dangals, which the villagers said were the fiefdom of boys,” Mahavir told The Times of India in 2015.
Mahavir never let his daughter feel weak in front of boys and if they lose any match he used to hit them hard so that they don’t get hurt easily. “If we lost to them in a race or fell weak before them, the father would hit us,” Geeta said while talking to Amir Khan in the Satyamev Jayate episode.
Mahavir later introduced Geeta, his elder daughter, and Babita to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Sonipat center so that they get better facilities and equipment. SAI have helped them to compete at the national level.
Now Mahavir enjoys the success of his daughters and receives accolades for his visionary decision to empower his daughters. Babita, Geeta, and Vinesh are renowned names in Indian women wrestling like their male counterparts Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt.
In 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games Geeta won the first gold medal in 55 kg freestyle women wrestling. She followed up by a bronze medal in 2012 World Championship as a first Indian woman. Her success was emulated by her other sisters as well. In 2010 Commonwealth Games her sister Babita won the silver medal and gold in 2014 Commonwealth Games. In the same year in the same competition in another category, Vinesh won the gold medal and bronze in 2015 Asian Wrestling Championships.
What Mahavir couldn’t achieve in his career now his daughters and his deceased brother’s daughters achieved it. The Phogat family is now well celebrated in India. Considering their handwork and success the Bollywood actor Amir Khan made a movie of the family.