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Is it good that India's women cricket team lost the final?

The Indian women's cricket team might have lost the match but what finally emerges from this World Cup experience might transform into a greater victory Photograph: (WION)

Delhi, India Jul 24, 2017, 07.23 AM (IST) Debraj Mookerjee

One newspaper headlined the women's cricket World Cup title match thus, 'Nine runs short of history'. Perhaps the headline missed the irony trapped in its own supposition - that these women were trying to write 'his-story'. What it elided was something much much bigger – which is, 'her-story'. 

Yes, it was cricket that did it for the women in blue. After all, cricket is the reigning catalyst of this nation's imagination. Cricketing fervour makes a visceral connection with the country's deepest cultural resources, bringing out in the process its best, and its worst. But while what happened yesterday at Lord’s was cricket, it was also way more than cricket.

Moments of exuberance stimulate the imagination. Accolades are being heaped on the Mitali Raj-led Indian women’s cricket team. The Prime Minister tweeted in his congratulations. Diehard fans have exclaimed, “Ufff, if only!” To me, however, the most fetching comment was the one aired on TV much before the final match was played. It came from a Haryana farmer, when asked what he thought about the women’s cricket team, “I’ll put my daughters through college or even support them if they wish to play cricket. My sons can take to the fields. They are good for that (only)!” 

I’ll put my daughters through college or even support them if they wish to play cricket. My sons can take to the fields. They are good for that (only)!
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So here are two critical questions: “Is this a moment of disruption for the choices women can make about themselves and their lives?” And, “Is this also a moment that recasts the way women are perceived by society (read patriarchy)?”

Small disruptions have stirred the imagination in the past. In ‘Chak de India’, a woman hockey player has a hot shot national-level cricketer as a boyfriend, who her friends in the team swoon over. There is this moment where he disparages her game, patronising women’s hockey as the ‘not real’ thing. The woman player drops him then and there, just like that. ‘Dangal’ has this moment where a young bride tells her friend Geeta (the lead protagonist of the movie, who’s not at that point happy about being pushed into wrestling by her father) that she got it wrong about missing all this wedding finery, that at least her father has given her a purpose beyond the limited and narrow choices available to women. Captain Mitali Raj has added to this string of disruptions. When asked who her favourite male cricketer was, pat came her reply: “Do you ask male cricketers about their favourite female cricketer?” Another time in an interview she was asked about her favourite ‘assessory’. Guess what she said? “Kindle!”

These moments of disruption do not add up to a consensus on women’s emancipation; they only show the way. Which is why I am almost glad we lost the final by nine runs. To have almost made it but not quite is a more apposite outcome. Otherwise, by now, we’d have gone wild, waiting at the airport with garlands and cut-outs, naming these cricketers after our goddesses. We are almost there but not quite. 

Otherwise, by now, we’d have gone wild, waiting at the airport with garlands and cut-outs, naming these cricketers after our goddesses
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To deify women is not same as respecting them. True, we deify our male cricketers. But then most Indian men are deified in their homes too. That’s exactly what Madhuri Dixit tries to debunk when she says to her screen husband while resisting his domineering belief system in the path breaking Prakash Jha movie, ‘Mrityudana’ (Death Sentence), “Pati hai, pati bane rahiye. Parmeshwar banne ki koshis mat kijiye.” (You are my husband, stay that way. Don’t try and play God).  

For society to change its attitude towards women and to view them as free subjects, we need to step back from the exuberance of the moment and reassess our attitude towards women. We need to find the courage to see a Harmanpreet in our daughters, and not merely as a cutout. We need to recognise that while the Jadejas of the world grew up in rough neighbourhoods just like perhaps the Harmanpreets, there is a difference. When Jadeja was playing gully cricket, his parents believed it was the things boys do. The Harmanpreets, on the other hand, were told to play ‘stapu’ (hopscotch), not allowed to wield the cricket bat. The Jadejas of the world would have kept the Harmanpreets at bay. No fault of the Jadejas, but that is the way patriarchy works. It hardwires the edifice of injustice into the minds of people, young and old, men and women, pracharak and pastor.

Maybe it will get our girls out of their homes and onto the gully. And from the gully to the ground. And from the ground to their own.
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The Mirzas, Nehwals and Sidhus have carved out careers that reflect their individual brilliance. But to see women succeed in a team game is something else. To see the cricket team strive before the world stage and play with such pluck and skill is to recognise their individual struggles of courage. As a society, we need to engage with these stories and read them into the script we evolve for our girls and our women. This narrative won’t be forged into shape with one World Cup. It has to be coded into our DNA. And it’s about much more than a game. It is about identity. Women must be recognised for what they do and not who they are. This requires a paradigm shift in our thinking as a society.

It’s good therefore that we lost the final. The next four years will be about doing better in 2021 World Cup. The Jhulans and Rajs of the world had to fight hard to be recognised as players (Diana Edulgee anybody?), but the younger lot have had their moment in the sun. I would not be surprised with an IPL (W) taking shape. The game of cricket does strange things to India. Maybe it will get our girls out of their homes and onto the gully. And from the gully to the ground. And from the ground to their own. We may have lost the final. But what finally emerges from this World Cup experience might transform into a greater victory.   
 

Debraj Mookerjee

Debraj Mookerjee teaches English at Ramjas College, Delhi University

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