Divya Kakran was the youngest medal winner, from India, at the Asian Wrestling Championships held in Delhi earlier this month. She at the age of 19 is one of the brightest Indian women’s wrestling prospects. However, her journey to the top has not been a smooth one.
Divya’s father and brother both were wrestlers. Hence, she was pushed towards wrestling at a very young age. Divya was a quick learner and soon became a better wrestler than her brother. She and her brother continued their wrestling for some time but soon it became difficult for the family to shoulder the nutrition of two wrestlers. That is when Divya’s father decided that her brother needed to quit wresting.
The decision received much opposition from Divya’s mother as she believed in the old patriarchal system. However, Divya’s father knew that Divya could be a better wrestler. So, instead of sticking to old traditions he decided to play the gamble of letting his daughter continue the sport of wrestling, a decision which he clearly doesn’t regret today.
The decision of taking up combat ports usually isn’t received by much enthusiasm by most people. People around Divya had the same reaction. She was constantly told that she would not be able to make it to the top. “No one, apart from my father and brother, was open to the idea of me pursuing wrestling,” Divya said. “Everybody just told me that I shouldn’t peruse it and that I won’t be able to make it to the top. People always say something or other; I never have or will pay attention to all of it. I have a very supportive family. My brother trains me, he left his education and wrestling for me. He is the reason why I am here. I don’t need to pay attention to what others think, I know my family supports me and that is what matters.”
Even today people refuse to accept the fact that girls can achieve as much as boys. In fact some even refuse to accept that girls can take up sports, much less take up a combat sport like wrestling. Even if a girl takes up a sport, she finds it difficult to get acceptance amongst the masses. Divya too faced such problems.
“Today people say that ‘she is from our village and that I know her’. But in the beginning all these people refused to accept me,” Divya explained. “Women too can achieve a lot in the world of sports. Look at Sakshi Malik; she won an Olympic medal for our country at the Olympic Games.”
Divya also believes that people who refuse to accept the fact women can achieve as much as men must be lacking something in their own life. “Those who think that women cannot achieve anything are people who have never achieved anything in their life,” she said. “They refuse to grow and move further in life. It’s a misconception that women cannot be successful. People kill their daughters in their womb. Had my mother killed me in her womb I wouldn’t have achieved all of this. Had PV Sindhu, Mary Kom and so many others been killed in their womb by their mothers who would have won all these medals for our nation, if parents won’t support their children then who will support them?”
Women athletes have always found it difficult to gain support from people around them, making it difficult for them to continue their journey in the world of sports. Divya had a message for these girls. “Even I faced this problem,” she said. “People around me did not support me. However, I had a dream. I wanted to do something for this nation. There were times when we didn’t have much to eat so I had to fill my stomach with water but I still continued. I have wrestled during these times. If you have the drive inside you then nothing can stop you. Face every problem with your head held high. Time and again women athletes have quit sports because men around them harass them. They start fearing them and think that everyone will blame them. Hence they stay at home and refuse to come out. This encourages eve teasers and simply gives them confidence. Don’t be afraid; face the challenges with full might cause if you don’t you will simply end up in your house and will not be able to achieve anything. Be brave.”
Divya’s win at the Asian Wrestling Championships brought her a lot of attention. Starting from Bollywood superstar Randeep Hooda to Indian wrestling federation president Brij Bhushan Sharma, everyone started talking about her. All of this at the very young age of 19.
Reflecting back at her past, a time where she was told that she won’t be able to make it top, to today, where she has made her nation proud, Divya is thoroughly enjoying the fruits of her labor. “Time is the mightiest,” she explained. “The people who told me that I won’t ever make it to the top today are using my name and are saying that they are associated to me. Today the people are not only saying that I will be an Olympian but I will also bring our nation a gold medal. All of this is happening because of the support of my parents, my brother and my teacher.”
Divya recognizes Commonwealth gold medal winner, Prem Nath as her idol. It is her dream to complete his wish of winning an Olympic Gold Medal. “My guru is Prem Nath,” Divya stated. “He was scheduled to compete for Olympic medal but because of a broken rib he couldn’t fight and hence couldn’t win an Olympic medal. It was his dream to win an Olympic gold medal, which I want to fulfill. I want to fulfill his dream.”
At the Asian Wrestling Championships Divya walked out with the silver medal. In the finals she squared up against 2016 Olympic Gold medalist, Sara Dosho. She was a heavy underdog in the match. However, that didn’t bother Divya much as she knew that she had to eventually meet Dosho. “My aim is to win an Olympic Gold for our country,” Divya said. “I knew Dosho was more experienced and skillful but I was ready. I gave my 100% but she was way more experienced. However, I eventually have to defeat not only her but all of them.”
Women’s wrestling has received a lot of attention in India. First Sakshi Malik brought India its first medal at the Rio Olympics. Then the movie Dangal became the most successful Bollywood movie earning 6 billion Indian rupees. Divya believes that all of this will help many girls get the acceptance which they have always wanted and will also inspire many girls to follow the footsteps of Sakshi and Phogat sisters. “Today everyone is talking about women wrestling,” Divya stated. “People from the smallest of all villages are taking about it. The story of Phogat sisters and Sakshi will inspire many people. It has also managed to change the thinking of many people.”
The wrestling world championships approaches. Divya has one aim for it. “I want to win the gold medal at the world championships. I am going to work very hard for it.”
Before going Divya had a message for her fans. “Thank you so much for supporting me,” she said. “I will win our country an Olympic gold at 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And every girl reading this, remembers one thing, never give up. Be brave, stay strong and you will win.”
Follow Divya Kakran on Twitter at @DivyaWrestler