Sports

Once a child bride, 21-year-old Neetu is determined to put India on world map of wrestling!

Her name is Neetu and she slips out of her home at 3am every morning for practice sessions. Married at 13 to a 43-year-old mentally-challenged man, and became the mother of twins at 14. Her sacrifices and hardships have shaped her and today, the Haryana girl is upholding India’s flag in the World Championship in wrestling.

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Forced into marriage for money by her parents, she divorced him, but was remarried within weeks. However, Neetu did not allow her illegal child marriage, and the repressive morals of her society, to stop her from moving forward. Her village elders stopped Neetu from practicing at the local ‘akhara’ because she was a girl, he parents were against the idea, too. Refusing to surrender to the will of the others, the objective-driven Neetu snuck out regularly, uncaring of any consequences, although she made sure she returned back before the family woke up.

ROHTAK, INDIA - SEPTEMBER 24: International wrestler Neetu ‎ training at Chotu Ram Stadium on September 24, 2015 in Rohtak, India. 21 year old wrestler Neetu from Bedwa village, Rohtak who was 13 when she was married at 13 and become mother when she was 14. Working several odd jobs to support her family she kept alive her dream of becoming an international wrestler. In August 21-year-old Neetu represented Inida at the Junior World Championships in Brazil. (Photo by Sanjeev Sharma/Hindustan Times )

She started wrestling in 2011, and in 2014, she won her first medal at the Nationals. She shared her happiness back in her village, the same village which didn’t think Neetu could make it in a man’s sport, same people who barred her from the local training ground. Now, they embraced her as a hero, sang songs of praise.

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There are very few Neetus around. There is extreme resistance from relatives who want the new generation to remain locked in traditional values. India has the most gender-skewed ratios in the world, and we have been ignoring this since ages.

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There must be hundreds of thousands of girls who harbour ambitions, who want to break the tradition of subservience, who want to do what their heart wants them to. As a society, we need to encourage them, not consign them to darkness.