Neetu Sarkar’s Journey From Being a Child Bride to an International Wrestler Is Truly Inspiring

This is the inspiring story of a former child bride who is now an international-level wrestler.
Neetu Sarkar wakes up every morning at 3 am to take a one-and-a-half-hour-long bus journey from her village of Bhiwani to Rohtak in Haryana. On reaching the city, this wrestler takes part in a strenuous training programme. At 9 am, when the training is over, she takes the bus back home. Once back, she washes clothes and does some cooking and cleaning. Again, she leaves for Rohtak in the afternoon, finishes her training, and returns home at 9 pm.
This schedule sounds hard for a regular person. But Neetu is not ordinary.

In fact, unimaginable struggles have got her to this point in life.

neetu1Photo source: girltalkhq.com

“It gets difficult on some days. But I’m very focussed on my goal. I’ve come a long way and I don’t want to give up now,” she says.
Life was cruel to Neetu as a child. She was married at the age of 13 to a mentally challenged man, 30 years her senior. But this didn’t last even a week. When her father-in-law tried to rape her, Neetu ran away from home.
Child marriage has been outlawed in India since 1929.

However, Neetu’s story is a perfect example of how tradition trumps the law. A 2014 UN report suggested that India has the second highest number of child marriages in South Asia. In a majority of cases, poverty forces families to marry off their daughters at a young age, in the hope they’ll have a better life. Also, for the family, one less person means fewer expenses.

“When I was 13 years old, two girls from my neighbourhood eloped and this is what scared my family. They thought I will also do the same. So they married me off. Basically, I was the one who was punished for their mistake,” says Neetu.

Though the ill-treatment by her in-laws angered Neetu’s parents, it didn’t prevent them from marrying her off a second time. However, this time, the man who married her was a kind person. He loved and supported her.

She gave birth to twin boys at the age of 14.

NeeeeeeePhoto source: girltalkhq.com

But the family had very little money. Neetu’s husband was unemployed. Her mother-in-law’s pension could only cover the bare minimum groceries and the children’s school fees once they started growing up.

“I used to be fascinated with wrestling even when I was a child. When the 2010 Commonwealth Games were taking place in India, I was watching wrestling on TV and suddenly it struck me that I should take this up as a career,” says Neetu.

Fuelled by the desire to escape poverty, Neetu decided to start training at the male-dominated akhara (wrestling pit). But she was banned from entering the place.

People in the village were shocked that she wanted to take up wrestling. They told her husband to forbid her from doing such a thing. Her mother-in-law was reluctant too. But Neetu did not let any of this stand in her way.
At the time, she weighed over 80 kg. In order to lose weight and become fit, she started waking up at 3 am and going for a run.

She would finish her run and come back home before the others in the village woke up.

Photo source:  girltalkhq.com

Neetu’s dreams took shape in 2011 when she met coach Ziley Sing.

“He told me if Mary Kom could win a medal after motherhood, so could I. And that gave me a lot of hope,” she says.

She started training at a facility in Rohtak. Her hard work paid off soon as she won her first bronze medal at a national event that year. Since then, there has been no looking back.

Neetu has gone on to win medals at many national and international events.

neetu 2Photo source: sushil4sports.com

She won a silver medal in the 48 kg category in the 35th National Games in Kerala. She has also represented the country in the World Junior Wrestling Championships in Brazil.

“Now, the very villagers who were angry with me for choosing wrestling, are proud of my achievements. The people at the akhara have felicitated me. And I see parents telling their daughters to become like me. This gives me a lot of happiness,” she says.

Neetu is hoping to get a job with Indian Railways. She is also training to qualify for this year’s World Wrestling Championships.

Neetu, whose biggest idol is wrestler Sushil Kumar, is now being supported by the Sushil4Sports Foundation.

neeettuuPhoto source: girltalkhq.com

“They have sponsored my stay in Rohtak for two months so I don’t have to travel up and down every day. Now, I go home on weekends. My family is my biggest support. I couldn’t have made it this far without my husband. And my boys, they make it so much easier by not insisting that I should always be with them. I feel I’ve made the right decision when I see the pride on their faces,” she says.

To get in touch with Neetu, email the academy at [email protected]

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