Sports

Her name is Hetal Dave, the only woman sumo wrestler in India! She’s also ill-fated!

She ate her way to close to 200 Pounds so that she could make us proud. You see, Hetal Dave thought she was meant for greatness in Sumo wrestling. Poor girl, she failed to factor in the country she was born in, and the people that lived in it, especially the rich and the empowered. She broke tradition and plunged into a sport dominated by men, but fell flat on her face. She is still lying down, for all practical purposes.

At an evening at Gender-Bender, an event organized by Goethe- Institute, we got a glimpse into the struggles of Hetal Dave, who was the evening’s talking point.

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The only woman wrestler in India is leading a lonesome life. The 5-foot-7 Hetal Dave knows she didn’t choose her career wisely, but is proud enough not to voice it out. She has no safety net, no fall-back option. She only has us. But we don’t care.

We don’t watch sumo wrestling in India. Hell, it’s not broadcast even. But that’s not the point. It’s the insensitive nature of our society which is a concern. There are countless benefactors in the realm of various Indian sports, but hardly any for Hetal.

This is how unpopular sumo wrestling is: “I once met a person for sponsorship and he asked me, ‘What are you going for?’ I said, ‘Sumo wrestling.’ He said, ‘Which, Tata Sumo?” said Hetal. It is more funny than embarrassing.

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Her name was cleared for the 2008 World Championship in Estonia, but she didn’t have the one lakh needed for air travel, accommodation and various other expenses. The federation for the sport is as good as non-existent. For any international event, the players are expected to shell out from their own purse.

In the 11th hour, a gentleman offered to sponsor her only because he discovered she was a Brahmin. Brahmins are mostly conservative, and it hit a chord. He didn’t want her to go abroad, alone. It’s a pity that she knocked but no one opened the door. A knock from Saina Nehwal would get a red carpet welcome.

World number one badminton player, Saina Nehwal, who is already reaping hundreds of thousands of dollars in badminton, has sponsors lined up at her front gate. She has, and she is getting more. The rich get richer, Hetal Dave, poorer. Edelweiss Group has pumped in crores of Rupees into her. Everyone wants to be associated with the winners, but not one money-man has the courage, heart, and a sense of morality to step forward and hold Hetal’s hand.

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There will never be an Indian Formula One champion, not even in 2nd position, or 3rd, 4rth, 5th…. yet, Hero Motors and Tata Motors drooled their way to the former Force India driver, more than happy to serve. F1 has international appeal and acceptance, putting money in such a sport brings recognition and fame, whether the racer races to pole position, or regularly ends at 14th spot.. F1 is racy, has a bad-boy image. It’s appealing to sponsors.

Let’s not even get started on cricket, it’s that vulgar!

The situation is ripe for India’s ministry of youth affairs and sports to intervene and nurse the fledgling federation to health. Funds should be pumped into it, along with every other possible resource.

Cash-strapped, and seemingly defeated, the 27-year-old Hetal Dave is able to train only with her brother, Akshay. And there is not even one sumo ring in the country..

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She stood fifth in the middle-weight category at the World Games in Taiwan in 2009. Clearly, she has always had the potential, just not anyone bold and kind enough to support. During this tour, Tata sponsored half the amount, the rest was managed somehow by Hetal and family. How degrading, not for Hetal, but for the Tatas. For a few lakhs, they forced the family to borrow, but didn’t bat an eyelid when splurging millions on already established players in popular sports.

Every time she comes to know of an upcoming tournament, Hetal and family spend around three months looking for a sponsor.

What is uncomprehending is, why does she have to struggle for just a couple of lakhs? Is it too big an amount for the Tatas and the Birlas?

Didn’t the Birlas recently buy a mansion in Mumbai for over 400 crores? Kumarmangalam Birla, and India Inc., should come forward and make Hetal’s life easy.