Of late, PV Sindhu’s name has been at the forefront of discussions in social media and other platforms. When people all over the world were taken aback by her sporting capabilities, many Telugu people were busy ‘googling’ her caste, thus giving a glimpse of their culture, traditions and their ‘broad-mindedness’. Two years prior to this, a tribal girl Malavath Poorna became the youngest girl in the world to successfully climb the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest. The mainstream media which took cognizance of this news attentively, let it disappear into oblivion with the same speed. Two years later, the Telugu society once again bestowed laurels and praise on Venkata Sindhu for winning the prestigious Olympic Silver. In fact, she deserves every bit of it. As someone on whom there were not much expectations, Sindhu’s game, apart from being a treat to watch for many also generated considerable interest about her caste.
Some people who were seen next to her in the road-show in Hyderabad went to the extent of claiming that this medal was only possible because of them! While these people waved their hands endlessly till they pained, they made sure that even Sindhu doesn’t get a break from waving her hands. In the meantime, both the Chief Ministers – satirically known to the outside world as ‘iddaru chandrulu’ (‘Two moons’, literally; refers to K Chandrashekar Rao and Chandrababu Naidu, chief ministers of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh respectively) – competed with each other to felicitate Sindhu while driving her across the city in an open-top van showering flowers all through the way.
A tale of two champions from different communities
Both Poorna and Sindhu came out with flying colours in their respective sports in their respective times. But of late, caste and capital are most necessary to make a mark in mainstream sports without which you are a nobody in the contemporary sporting scene. At a disastrous time when you will be considered a threat to the internal security of this country and your patriotism questioned if you choose to support a country of your choice, you will be forced to take a stand either/or with respect to India/Pakistan in the sporting arena. In this way, celebrating Sindhu’s win is a testament to such mentality of human nature.
Two years ago, none other than the Chief Minister of Telangana made a public announcement in front of the press about the decision to award Poorna 20 lakh rupees as prize money along with a three roomed house and five acres of land having both water and electricity connections. Along with her, her coach was also given some amount as prize money. After the Olympics, the phenomenal craze and limelight Sindhu has been getting forced me to probe as to what the status of Malavath Poorna is right now. I spoke to her father. He is not educated. Though they were given money, her father has no clue about the three roomed house and five acres of land. He has no idea on which table in the Collector’s office would the file be found. Born in a hamlet, no one amongst the seven generations prior to her, on either side, would have seen such a huge amount of money, ever.
The character of the welfare state and the conspiracy behind this were clearly understood after India won an Olympic medal. The welfare state made it clear again that in this deeply hierarchical society, it will put people in the place where they belong in that forced hierarchy. The class and caste character of the state was clearly visible for every one after Sindhu won the Olympic medal. Both the Telangana and the Andhra Chief Ministers competed to felicitate Sindhu, with money, land and many other incentives. Governments of Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and others, including famous businessmen, sportspersons and film stars were at the forefront to reward Sindhu. Along with crores of rupees, Sindhu was given swanky cars, bungalows and government jobs. Delhi’s Chief Minister offered two crores of rupees and a Group 1 Officers’ job to Sindhu. The same Kejriwal showed his class character when he offered a peon’s post in his office to Rohith Vemula’s brother who is a graduate.
Shouting ‘Jai Bhim’ at the highest point on earth
Born in the last step of this laddered caste society and forced to eat the leaves from the forest, what is the necessity for Malavath Poorna to climb the highest and the dangerous mountain in the world? Sometimes, the temperatures fall as low as -36 degree Celsius and the air also freezes making breathing very difficult. What would be her driving force to make her way to the top of Mount Everest amidst lost and disfigured human bodies, breakdown of blood vessels in the brain, loss of control of the nervous system and the possibility of heart attack any moment? Ignoring the life threat she had while climbing the highest point on earth, why would she proudly hold the photos of Ambedkar and Sankaran and shout ‘Jai Bhim’ by holding her breath? She very well knows that dangerous valleys exist behind the highest mountain. She got to know about the valley of difference after she climbed down the mountain and when the Olympics got over. She is recently getting to know that the ‘spherical earth’, as taught by her teacher, is not just spherical but is riddled with deep valleys, ridges and high mountains which are symbolic of the differences created by caste and religion and which still go strong even today, like the Great Wall of China. She is clearly able to see and imagine the colourful world which the silver medal has brought for Sindhu. Yes, Poorna is a world champion. If she loses in the process, she is another unknown corpse. For the first time in history, a tribal girl, who faced discrimination and oppression for generations, unfurled the photos of national icons at a height of 8848 metres above the sea level.
Opportunities and successes were not much difficult for PV Sindhu who inherited the sporting capabilities of both her parents and a privileged social background. The game Sindhu chose does not require extraordinary capabilities. If you have a healthy and an agile body, the skill to move fastly and a strong wrist, a win in this game is not that difficult. Even if Sindhu would have lost this time, she still has chances of winning the game later. Amidst all these favourable and unfavourable conditions, Sindhu started her Olympic quest and soon she tasted success by easily winning match after match. The irony here is that when people across the world became huge fans of her game, Telugu people back home were busy searching for her caste and region in Internet. Some others decorated her forehead with Kapu jewels and Vysya diamonds. Many people equalized her sporting capabilities by offering her crores of rupees while she was still inside the court.
Whereas, when Poorna came back after chasing Mount Everest, Ranganayakamma wrote an article where she opined that climbing trees and hills in the name of sports is not an extraordinary talent and it is quite a naturally evolved skill and that it should not be given so much importance. When PV Sindhu was being decorated with jewels and diamonds along with crores of rupees being offered, Ranganayakamma didn’t respond at all. PV Sindhu comes from an elite family and Ranganayakamma doesn’t have the courage to take on PV Sindhu’s elite social status.
Lakshmi and Devidas belong to Parkala village in Sirikonda Mandal of Nizamabad district. They have two children – Poorna and her brother. She is the only literate in her family. Seven generations on either side of her family had no access to food twice a day. Poorna, who is studying in ninth class in the Social Welfare hostel and often suffers from lack of proper nutritional food, wrote her death note herself before she left for chasing Mount Everest. She practiced very hard for the same. Finally, she started off to climb Mount Everest. She knows very well that she was the only woman child in her family. In such an emotionally charged atmosphere, she first moved from the village to the city and finally from the city to the mountain, knowing well that she might not even come back to her family and village. The ninth class girl took an adventure upon herself to climb the 8848 metres high Mount Everest. This struggle to climb Mount Everest didn’t turn out to be as difficult for her as her struggle for livelihood and a decent, respectable life, which even generations prior to her have been struggling for. She knows for a fact that a little drift in her concentration would leave her dead and take away the possibility of seeing her family members one last time. She could clearly see the highs and lows, hardships and losses in life after climbing Mount Everest.
The world didn’t know that Everest was the highest peak in the world until the British measured its height during the colonial rule. Three officials disappeared during the process of measuring the height of this peak. George and Andrew who climbed Mount Everest for the first time 90 years ago didn’t return and their whereabouts were not known to anyone even after decades after the incident. Though the Nepalese people look at Mount Everest with mystic reverence, it has been a death bed for many adventurers who wanted to conquer the world’s tallest peak. Many people have tried climbing Mount Everest in the last one hundred years while 280 mountaineers are recorded to be dead, most of whose corpses are yet to be found. More than 300 people died in the process. In fact, this is a death game. In such a situation, many people give a deaf ear to the possibility of death in a hurry and passion to chase their dream. Whatever might be the aim of Tenzing Norgay when he started off the exploration of climbing Mount Everest for the first time, many people lost their address in the process of climbing Mount Everest. But, Malavath Poorna made it clear to the world in chilling cold that her aim has an address and that the address is Ambedkar. Now, everyone else is trying to continue the same spirit.
Role models for future generations of girls
Both Poorna and PV Sindhu have shown a direction to the new generation. Both of them have given hope and confidence that lakhs of girl children, who don’t get to come out of their mothers’ womb, will have the guts to say, “Please let me live. I want to become another Poorna/Sindhu.” But, what did our rulers do? The Prime Minister of the country invited these athletes to Delhi over a cup of tea, clicked a picture which he posted on twitter. The Chief Minister of Telangana, who gives away land worth thousands of crores of rupees to modern cities and big business corporates has not yet given the promised 5 acres of land for Poorna, whose family doesn’t own an inch of land till now. The ruling class weighs merit on the basis of caste: by placing one of them on the international level and throwing the other in an untouchable Dalit hamlet. As she accepts her apparently ‘divine’ fate of born into a lowered caste, Ekalavya’s sister Malavath Poorna is only left with insults.
Though the society has transformed into a modern one from a primitive one, the Ekalavyas of Mahabharatha are still bearing the brunt of this caste Hindu society. The ‘divine fate’ was imposed upon people very cleverly. Sindhu was given cheques, cars, bungalows and many other gifts right on stage while the ruling castes made sure that the promises made to Poorna by none other than Telangana Chief Minister, were not yet fulfilled even after two complete years. Even today, the Government has no clue as to where it can show land to Poorna’s family while Poorna’s innocent father has no idea if the promises made will be fulfilled at all. The file containing the details of Poorna must have been thrown into a dust bin. Malavath Poorna put her life at risk to successfully climb Mount Everest. The very little material gifts from the rulers will help her build her future over the foundations of her successful climbing of Mount Everest. Fate has made her much more strong and resilient. Poorna resembles Mount Everest with exuberating confidence while the ruling classes are nothing but dwarfs in front of her.
Gurram Seetaramulu is a poet, editor, writer and political analyst. He has finished his doctoral research, working on oral literary history of Dalit societies at the School of Interdisciplinary Studies in the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad. He is engaged in translation of Telugu Dalit literature into English and has presented papers at national and international conferences. His email: email@example.com
Translated from Telugu with the help of Rahul Maganti