Despite indifference,female wrestlers continue to train at an akhara in old Delhi
At Chandgi Ram Akhara,located two kms from Kashmiri Gate in the walled city of old Delhi,day begins with the sunrise. Girls of different ages,mumble prayers outside the Hanuman temple. Then they change into their wrestling gear and complete warm-up exercises in the wrestling pit constructed in 1975 by Guru Chandgi Ram the man synonymous with Indian wrestling. Trainers Jagdish Kaliraman and Deepika Kaliraman,Rams son and daughter,teach the 20-odd girls techniques to pin down their opponents. It is not about weight,it is about strength,speed and agility, says Deepika,while directing her seven-year-old niece Chirakshi on how to use a simple knee buckling technique and pack a mean punch,to bring down her opponent,an older girl. Milk is served at the end of the first session. We never fall short of milk. There is plenty in the house as it is the main source of the girls nutrition, says Poonam Kaliraman,Jagdishs wife.
The akhara has served as a training ground for many women wrestlers like Neha Rathi (winner of a bronze medal at the Asian Wrestling Championships,2012) and Sonika Kaliraman (2003 silver medal winner at junior Asian Games and a part of this years Bigg Boss). When it opened in 1975,the akhara was the first in the country to train women wrestlers. Since wrestling was always considered a male-dominated field,people used to try and convince my father not to train girls. Many wrestlers themselves would not send their daughters, says Deepika,who adds that Ram was not disheartened by the opposition and started training his daughters first. We started learning at an early age,along with my three brothers. People started talking but my father made sure that our training was strict and we could make it to the national and international games, says Deepika who also runs a makeshift akhara for girls in Dwarka.
After Rams death in 2010,six of his children decided they would continue their fathers legacy by training women wrestlers The problem is that the government and authorities dont bother much. We get a menial Rs 2,000 per month and an annual grant from the MCD for the training. But if we have to spend from our pockets on a wrestler who shows promise,we do. I feel that the future of womens wrestling is quite bright. I am working with the new generations of fighters,girls who are interested in it. The discipline is growing, says Deepika.