Rudranil Sengupta says it’s a time of collision for wrestler Antim Panghal

Sitting on a charpoy in the small courtyard of a crude cement house in Hisar, Haryana, I met the future of Indian wrestling. Her hair was cropped, she wore baggy track pants and a muscle t-shirt, her crumpled ear rings a classic nod to the times.

In 2022, Panghal, then 17, became India's first female wrestler to win the Under-20 World Championship.  (PTI) premium
In 2022, Panghal, then 17, became India’s first female wrestler to win the Under-20 World Championship. (PTI)

Beside him, the family’s big buffalo ate at its trough. Behind him, a kitchen sack held the kitchen window shut against the fly.

18-year-old Antim Panghal is timid and shy. Modest and beautiful, with a winning smile, one might almost call her sweet. But on the mat, she is a force of nature; 5’4” pure explosive power.

During the recent qualification trials for the Asian Wrestling Championship in Delhi, she defeated her opponents with an impassive face. His pace was breathtaking. His skills and wrestling smarts are extraordinary for his age. The explosive power he generated for every move, defensive or offensive, was like watching the fire of military tanks and retreating cannons.

Panghal, it was clear, was ready for her senior debut on the big stage, even though she has yet to play in a senior national championship. She won silver at the Asian Championships, which concluded on Friday, only to be beaten in the final by 2021 world champion Akari Fujinami of Japan.

Wrestling is considered to be the most popular sport in India; There are few others where women have to push through the glass ceiling the same way. Still, female talent has exploded in recent years, making it a sport of contradictions.

Haryana, one of India’s least progressive states when it comes to gender indices, has taken the lead in training girls in wrestling. India’s medal tally in this field is high for women from this state. And now a new star has arrived, in the form of a woman named Antim, Hindi for the finale, because her parents don’t want another girl after the fourth.

In another paradox, Panghal has the full support of his parents in his journey. It’s not that they don’t love their girls. This is their concern. “Can you imagine the money to get four daughters married?” His mother Krishna Kumari says. “This could see us thrown out onto the streets.” For the same reason, another woman in the national team is named Bhateri (Enough Hindi).

“My parents may not have wanted me before I was born, but since I’ve been here, I’ve felt nothing but support and love. They have done everything for me,” says Panghal. This includes selling their house and farm in Bhagana, a village 25 km from where they live now, and moving to a barren land settlement near Hisar town, so that their young wrestlers can participate in tournaments. . the arena Open to girls.

Their home is centered on the lives of its women, who are an energetic and upbeat group led by an irrepressible and joyful mother; Her husband Ramniwas Panghal, a farmer, is a tireless supporter.

On the advice of his doting sister Sarita Panghal, Antim started wrestling Kabaddi But she could not make much progress on the field as she did not have enough facilities or teammates in her district. Sarita recognized Antiem’s ​​gift for athletics early on, and encouraged him to choose an individual sport. Now he is the best wrestler in the country; First female wrestler to win Under-20 World Championship in 2022; And a woman who almost beat Vinesh Phogat, India’s most accomplished wrestler, in the trials for a place in the Commonwealth Games team last year.

It will be a big two years for Antim Panghal — the Asian Championships will be followed by the World Wrestling Championships, in September; After that, the Asian Games will be played in September-October and the Paris Olympics next year. In all those weight categories where he excels, Phogat must overcome, just to qualify.

Is she excited, anxious, worried? “Off the mat, I’m calm, even scared,” Panghal says. “But on the mat, that’s all gone. I just know I have to fight. I have to keep attacking. I have to win.”

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