Meet Neetu Sarkar, an Indian child bride turned medal winning wrestler.
Neetu was married to a 43-year-old mentally-challenged man when she was 13 years old. When she was 14 she became a mother to twin boys with her second husband.
This year she’s hoping to make it to the World Wrestling Championships, and is being supported by the Sushil4Sports Foundation, initiated by her biggest idol, wrestler Sushil Kumar.
Neetu’s no stranger to hardship, but the dedication and commitment she has to her sport is admirable. The mother-of-two used to get up at 3 a.m. every morning to take a one-and-half hour bus trip to get to practice sessions.
According to The Better India, the Haryana woman left her first husband on the third day of marriage after her father-in-law tried to rape her. She was quickly married off to a second man, who was unemployed and who she had twins babies with when she was 14. Despite her challenges Neetu knew she would represent India in wrestling one day.
“Becoming a mother at 14 and the family’s financial condition didn’t allow me to think about sport for the next few years. I started in 2011, and in 2014, I won my first medal in the Nationals,” Neetu says on Sushil4Sports.
The Sushil4Sport’s website says that Neetu started wrestling when she was 17. The young gun was undeterred by village elders who said she wasn’t allowed in the male-dominated gymnasiums. Ignoring their dismissal, Neetu worked incredibly hard in her training.
When she was 21 years old Neetu went on to represent India for wrestling at the Junior World Championships in Brazil 2015.
Neetu got to where she is through persistence. Due to her financial situation she worked in odd jobs to get her through. She commuted six-hours every day, by train to get to her morning and evening training sessions at the Chotu Ram Stadium in Rohtak city Sushil4Sports website reads.
The Foundation says that Neetu is still battling resistance from relatives who want her to maintain traditional Indian values. But she has harboured her ambitions and broken the tradition of subservience.
According to UNICEF India, India is home to a third of the world’s child brides. Approximately half of Indian women are married before the legal age of 18.
Let’s use Neetu’s story to raise a voice against child brides in India and to support a woman who deserves a place at the World Wrestling Championship this year.