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He helped women storm a male bastion

Way back in the late 1990s,when ‘Master’ Chandgi Ram advocated women’s participation in wrestling,he was ridiculed and frowned upon in equal measure.

Written by Uthra G. Chaturvedi | New Delhi |
June 30, 2010 12:06:40 am

Way back in the late 1990s,when ‘Master’ Chandgi Ram advocated women’s participation in wrestling,he was ridiculed and frowned upon in equal measure. “Wrestling is for men,” he was told. “Will you let your own daughters into it?”

Chandgi Ram cajoled his three daughters onto the mat. The trio went on to impress,with the eldest Sonika Kaliraman winning a silver at the Asian Championships in 2000. On Tuesday,Guruji,as he was fondly called,passed away after a brief illness. He was 72.

During his time Chandgi Ram was largely responsible for women storming the male bastion of wresting. He encouraged the fairer sex to achieve fame and success in the sport. On his behalf,he rallied to try and ensure that women were on an equal footing as men in terms prize money and exposure at the international level.

“He is the one who encouraged me to take up the sport. This despite my own father’s reluctance,” said wrestler Neha Rathi. “He convinced my father to allow me to become a wrestler.”

Chandgi Ram was so obsessed with promoting women wrestlers that he stopped admitting new boys at his akhara.

Alka Tomar,who won bronze at the Asian Championships last month,is Sonika’s close friend,and the acquaintance helped her pick tips from the legend. “His dream was to watch all of us participate in the Commonwealth Games. Unfortunately,that won’t be possible now,” Tomar said.

However,promoting women’s wrestling is not Chandgi Ram’s only claim to fame. He won the gold in the 100 kg-category at the 1970 Asian Games in Bangkok beating then world champion Amvani Abuifazi of Iran. He also won every title on offer in India — Hind Kesari,Bharat Kesari,Bharat Bhim,Rustom-e-Hind and Maha Bharat Kesari. He was also conferred the Arjuna award and the Padma Shri.

Chandgi Ram was known to have the strongest arms among his contemporaries. The story goes that he developed the muscles on his arms by wrenching up to 100 wet sacks everyday.

Remembering her training days,Neha,currently in Patiala,said that he was a strict taskmaster. “There were no excuses. Once he taught a technique,he would spend days on it till every one at the akhara got it right. If you didn’t you would be punished. But there would be rewards for winning as well,” she said.

“At a dangal in Punjab,I lost my bout and then went to sleep. He slapped me. “Khub maar padi thi… unhone kaha ki dangal dekhne aye ho ya muft me sone,” she said.

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