When 16-year-old Mahima Rathod watched Dangal, she was unable to control her tears. The reason was simple; she saw her own father, Raju Rathod,in Mahavir Singh Phogat’s character.
Mahima happens to be a 61st National School Games Wrestling (Girls) Championship 2015-16 silver medalist.
But being a female wrestler came with its own set of challenges. Fortunately for her, her father took her side for ten years, supporting her pursuit of the sport.
Having grown up in a ‘wrestler’s family’, her story is surprisingly similar to that of the Phogat sisters.
Wrestling seems to run in Rathod blood; Mahima’s great-grandfather was a well known wrestler. Her grandfather and his eight brothers were wrestlers who moonlighted as farm laborers to pay the bills.
Mahima’s father, Raju Rathod and her uncle, Santosh Rathod, both started wrestling at an early age along with their father.
Raju managed to qualify for state-level wrestling as well, but had to quit because of a lack of finances to support his dream.
“You have to eat well to become a wrestler. We could hardly afford a meal so how could we keep wrestling?” he asks.
Raju, too, started working as a farm laborer. Eventually, he bought about 3 acres of land. But he found himself unable to restrain from the sport for long.
Raju hoped for a son that he could instruct in the nuances of the sport. When his first-born was a girl, he was disappointed. Soon his younger brother, Santosh Rathod, also a state-level champion, was blessed with a girl.
“Once my brother and I were discussing how God has been so cruel to us by giving us daughters. But then during the discussion itself we came to the conclusion that, what is the difference? I did not know about the Phogat sisters then. No girl around us was into wrestling but we decided to teach our girls,” says Raju Rathod.
Thus began the training sessions. Santosh’s daughter did not show much interest in the game –when he father passed away she made it clear that she wanted to become a doctor.
Mahima went on to be the only girl in the village who could wrestle.
Raju faced his share of name-calling and jibes, continued to do what he was doing. The state-level players he was familiar with encouraged him by giving him information about girls’ wrestling in India.
“No one was ready to practice with her, hence we used to get some boys, give them Rs.5 or Rs.10 or sometimes just gave them some goodies and asked them to play with Mahima,” he says.
Soon Raju started taking Mahima to other villages to play matches organised there. People continued to insinuate he was ruining his daughter’s life, but Raju remained undeterred.
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Eventually Mahima got an opportunity to fight against a female wrestler, when she was selected for the Taluka-level match. Since then there has been no looking back.
Later this year, Mahima will represent the state of Maharashtra in the national wrestling championship at Patna. Her first match is on 14th January 2017.
To participate in the 40kg category she needs to loose at least 3 kilograms. Apart from this she also has to cope with her studies as she will be appearing for her 10th board exams this year. She is striving hard to find a balance.
Her daily routine is grueling; she wakes up at 4 in the morning and studies for an hour. Then she exercises for an hour, and heads to school at 7 a.m.. After class, she attends tuitions till 5 p.m. after which she practices for as long as she can on the wrestling ground.
“Peoples’ perspectives have changed a little after watching the movie, Dangal,” she says.“But we girls still have to prove ourselves in every field at each step, especially in sports. I am going to make my father proud one day; I have promised that to myself,” says the ‘dhakad’ girl.
Mahima is studying in Koshatwar Vidyalay, Pusad and stays in a government hostel. Her education is free but, in spite of winning a silver medal, she has not received any help from the government apart from a Rs. 15,000 scholarship .
Raju Rathod is a small cotton and soybean farmer in the Dudhagiri village of the Yavatmal district of Maharashtra. So far he has personally trained her and taken care of all expenses despite having to face a financial crisis of his own.
But at present, Mahima requires a special diet and training to reach the international level.
“Recently ABP News came to our village and covered Mahima’s story. The villagers have realized the importance of the game now. But we have not received any help yet. My daughter wants to play for the country. She says she won’t accept a job but will keep playing until she brings glory to the country,” says Raju Rathod.
A school teacher from Pusad, Mr. Parsharam Narwade, who is also associated with the NGO Shivprabha Charitable trust took a note of Mahima’s ordeal and contacted The Better India, requesting help.
As TBI readers, you can lend your support by contacting Raju Rathod on 9011984333 or donating here .