Society

P V Sindhu’s Historic Silver and How the Internet Reacted to It

Anasuya Goswami, in this article scrutinizes the different ways people of the country retaliated on PV Sindhu’s Olympic silver medal win.

“While sports are indisputably a positive source of strength and self-development for girls, they can accomplish this only if the environment in which female athletes throw their javelins, kick their soccer balls, and swim their fast and furious laps, is an environment that respects girls and takes them seriously as athletes.”-Leslie Heywood

On August 19, 2016 from far-off Rio, Pusarla Venkata Sindhu gave something for history book authors to take note of by becoming the first Indian to win a silver medal in badminton at the Olympics. The people of India certainly took note of it. In a country notorious for its lack of interest in women’s sport, its social media presence went positively berserk at the 21 year old’s Olympic performance. Aneesh Madani, Head of Sports Partnerships at Twitter India said, “Sindhu’s medal run made history on court and on Twitter. There were? More than 630,000 Tweets for the final, even more than the thrilling India-Bangladesh match at the ICC World T20 earlier this year.”[1]

What exactly did India have to say about her?

With Sindhu’s win in the semi-final against Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara, an Olympic medal was ‘confirmed’. Amitabh Bachchan tweeted that one must “Never ever underestimate power of female gender”, whereas Yogendra Yadav declared on the same social networking site that “Women are saviour of national honour!”. Others like Aditya Nasheer concluded that “Beti hai to medal hai. Beti bachao beti khilao. (If there is a daughter, there is a medal. Save daughters, feed daughters.).” While claims like daughters should be fed just in case they turn out to be sports prodigies who win medals are perturbing in their blatant sexism, other reactions (not all of which I have reproduced here) seem to focus on how Sindhu had won the ‘Women’s’ Badminton Semi-Final, and lost the ‘Women’s’ Badminton Final, and been a pride of India for having been a woman. It is taken for granted that a Badminton Final would obviously connote the Men’s. However, this is not specific to the reactions of Indians to Sindhu’s game, but to women’s sports worldwide. Women’s sportsis most often shown as being derivative of the male standard and this reveals deeper gendered notions of women’s subordination to men, according to a study of sports journalism sponsored by the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles.[2]

Other reactions on how the win clearly brings out that women should not be underestimated simply go to show that endemic notion that women must, in some way or the other, justify why they ought not to be underestimated or held back. Thus, a satisfactory justification can only come on the winning of an Olympic silver medal. One begins to wonder how many men were being “underestimated” before one man finally went and won the Olympic silver medal in badminton to put an end to it. But then again, that never happened. P V Sindhu is the first Indian to have won a silver medal in badminton in the Olympics, and not the first Indian woman, like most social media actors would like one to believe.

As a text-book example of how gender and caste discrimination come hand-in-hand, theGoogle search for P V Sindhu’s caste peaked after the final match against Carolina Marin. Over 9 lakh searches were made in India in order to ascertain her caste, in order to verify her hereditary ‘credentials’ before one could legitimately congratulate her historic performance.[3] Till the day following the final, this search criterion even exceeded those relating to her career or the Olympic final.[4]

It is certainly disheartening to witness Sindhu’s historic achievement being downplayed by persons on social media patronising the “accomplishments of a woman”, and others doubting the soundness of her feat by looking to another attribute bequeathed to her at birth. However, the silver around her neck loses none of its value having been won by a woman of a particular caste. It is the same medal that could have been around the neck of an upper-cate man, had he made it that far. However, he did not, and P V Sindhu did. Maybe all of us need to absorb this for once.

References-

[1] Anumeha Chaturvedi, PV Sindhu sets Social Media Abuzz, The Economic Times, Aug 19, 2016.

[2]Margaret Carlisle Duncan, Gender Bias in Televised Sports, http://ocw.usu.edu/English/introduction-to-writing-academic-prose/gender-bias-in-televised-sports.html-skinless_view.html

[3]While India was rooting for PV Sindhu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were googling her caste, The Economic Times, Aug 20, 2016.

[4]Ibid.

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