Maharashtra Kesari is a state championship of Indian-style wrestling. It started in 1961 and had only seen male competitors—until this year. In an attempt to become more inclusive and break barriers, the organisers of Maharashtra Kesari decided to rope in women to compete against each other in Pune.
The Kesari championship is held in different cities of Maharashtra once every year. The winner or “Kesari” was awarded a cash prize for the first 21 years, but since 1982, winners are also awarded a silver mace in addition to the cash prize.
Shantaram Ingawle, an organiser spoke to Pune Mirror about his inspiration behind the idea to include women wrestlers. “Women are getting a platform to showcase their talent in every sector today. Many women have earned accolades in wrestling at international level. Therefore, we decided to rope in two women wrestlers this time to participate in a promotional event. This is the 60th year of the state-level wrestling competition and 42nd year of the Maharashtra Kesari tournament. We are glad that we got an opportunity to give them a chance in this important year.”
The organisers arranged for a promotional match between Ankita Gund and Harshada Jadhav, two women wrestlers from Maharashtra.
Women formed a large part of the audience gathered to watch the tournament, and most had come to cheer as Ankita wrestle with Harshada. The promotional event highlighted the need for platforms which encourage women wrestlers in India.
Ankita, who ultimately defeated Harshada, told Pune Mirror, “It was a female wrestler that got India a medal in the Olympics. But even then, we never are truly acknowledged in the state. We are glad that we got the opportunity to play on this stage. We could prove that we are no less than the men who participate in this competition each year.”
The first-of-its-kind competition has generated positive reviews from the audience, who want a tournament with an equal title to the men’s Kesari. The organisers are also keen on working on this idea.
One of the spectators from the match said, “Either they [women] should get to compete in this match, or a separate competition of similar stature should be held for them. The struggle of women wrestlers in the country is real. This is the time to bring a change in the sport.”