In 2000, after the Olympic Games closed with much fanfare in Sydney, legendary wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat watched, dejected, as the prize reserved by his state government for the winner of an Olympic gold medal went unclaimed. Determined to never see this instance repeated, Phogat decided to do the unthinkable. Much to his neighbours' curiosity, he spent two days digging a pit in his courtyard and asked his young daughters and nieces to join him there at the break of dawn one day. Little did they know that this unusual command from their father would change their lives forever.
Yet, each of their wins in the ring, every ambition he had for them, came at great personal cost. In the small village of Balali in Haryana, a state infamous for its practice of female foeticide and low literacy rates, Phogat had to battle not just deep social stigma and an apathetic government but also a disapproving family and personal tragedy to train the girls in his sport.
Akhada tells the remarkable tremendous fortitude, of a father who fought against all odds to give his daughters a future they could not have dreamed for themselves.
Saurabh Duggal is a special correspondent with Hindustan Times, Chandigarh. His main area of interest is Olympic disciplines. He covered the 2010 Commonwealth Games and 2012 London Olympics for the newspaper, and has been selected for the prestigious Inclusive Media—UNDP Fellowship 2015 to study sports as a vehicle for social upliftment, economic change and women's empowerment in rural Haryana.
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