Heena Sidhu initially did not see herself choosing shooting as a profession. While growing up in a joint family in Patiala district of Punjab, she was engrossed in her studies to pursue medical sciences. Shooting was something that developed as a hobby. Born to a family of shooters, she was always lured by guns. Burdened with too much of studies, she would take the sport as a recreation activity away from her studies.
She started entering district tournaments where she won medals. In 2009, she became a part of India’s shooting contingent, but it wasn’t till Olympics 2012 that she decided to leave her dentistry career behind to pursue the sport full-time.
“At 2012 Olympics, I realised this is what I want to do. I felt how close I am to winning a medal, no matter how far I was. Giving it all away would have been disrespectful for my country and for the sport. There would be lakhs of better doctors than me but very few better shooters,” the 28-year-old told indianexpress.com in a chat.
Now, 12-years being a professional shooter, the Commonwealth Games 2018 gold medallist feels there is no division on the basis of gender in sports. Talking about prejudices faced by women in their professional fields, Sidhu said: “Sports is one field where you do not field prejudice on gender. Most of the sports have women and men category. So no one can put you down and say you are doing something which is supposed to be just done by men. Of course, in some sports, men’s events get more limelight, just like how in certain sports, women’s version does. But that is something you do not feel as a sportsperson. That is the beauty.”
On Women’s Day
Over a chat on International Women’s Day at her childhood home in Patiala, Sidhu recalls an Oscar-winning documentary she recently saw that caught her attention. “I recently saw this documentary ‘Period: End of sentence’. I kept telling my husband [Ronak Pandit], ‘we live in a different world’. I could not believe that we live in a country where women give up education because of periods. This is the reality of women today in India. We are living in clouds,” she said.
She adds she wants to hear more from women from the ground on this Women’s Day. “Every year, on women’s day, I give advice to people. But I am so cut off from the ground reality, how can I do that anymore. I want to listen to women’s stories from the ground now,” she said.
Sidhu further recalls a recent visit to Kanha National Park where she saw women protecting forests and wildlife. In her mind, it was “macho and beautiful”. “Some of the women were part of the forest guards. These are the women doing unconventional jobs, not us sportspersons. Women trying to protect tigers, forest guides, and doing hospitality in jungles, I thought, it was macho and beautiful.”
On being a role model
Sidhu feels that being a role model for budding women athletes is a burden. She adds that women athletes should try to forge their own way in life. “Everybody has own strengths and weaknesses. I feel no one should pick a role model. Everyone has different lives, different situations. Take inspirations, but understand you are an individual. You cannot copy-paste what someone else did. Learn to step up for yourself.”
Even though Sidhu refrains from having a role model, she acknowledges she is inspired by the 23-time Grand Slam winning tennis player Serena Williams. “I draw inspiration from Serena Williams. I have been tracking her progress since her pregnancy and how she came back to the sport. I respect her.”
At the same time, Sidhu feels that women should not be bogged down by the pressure to pursue sports while raising a family, just because some other athletes have done it in the past. “It is completely person’s choice. One may be good at balancing both the jobs and she might feel the same amount of passion towards her sport, or she may not. Let’s not judge people and give examples of sportspersons continuing after becoming mothers. ‘Look, she is doing it, why cannot you?'” she said.
“I don’t like it when people look at women and say can ‘we change the stereotype now’. We never talk like this about men, then why do we need to talk like that about women.”
On trolls and criticism
There are a lot of times Sidhu has noticed when people talk about the appearances of women’s athlete instead of the performance. The Olympic shooter feels it is especially unfair for women. “It is something we cannot stop. That is something so ingrained in our society, and how we talk about women. It’s sad. People think it’s one of the reasons why an athlete did or did not perform on a particular day,” she said.
The former World No. 1 adds that people are unaware of the mental strength that goes into becoming a professional sportsperson. “Taking one selfie does not hamper or improve our performance. There are certain misconceptions about sportspersons. People like us when we win medals. But they do not like us when we talk. When we ask for our rights or when we speak up. Then, they tell us ‘focus on your sport, you are getting distracted’. If you think we are this weak that just by talking we get distracted, you have no idea the strength we have. We are trained to not get emotions in our way,” the Arjuna Award winning shooter said.