Road running

Labelled a 'circus member' by society, Bavleen Kaur scripts victory for J&K's women

Jammu: Bavleen Kaur could only finish 28th in the All-around, Hoops, Clubs and Balls and 26th in Ribbon in the Rythmic Gymnastics final at the Commonwealth Games on Thursday. But in being the only Indian representative in the final, performing her routines to the music of Shankar Ehsaan Loy’s ‘Gallan Goodiyan’ on the grand stage, she scripted a victory for all women of Jammu and Kashmir.

Like is the story for most women here, Bavleen faced criticism a few years ago for pursuing sports after a certain age, but she had a staunch ally in her father.

Recounting how she took up the sport, Bavleen told The Bridge, “My father once took me to a stadium and asked me which sport I wanted to play. I was bewildered at first until I saw several girls doing amazing ribbon dances. It was the beauty of the sport that drew me in. As a child, I thought it was exquisite. As the music began, the girl stood there gracefully and began performing rhythmically. I couldn’t stop appreciating the sport’s grace,” Bavleen said.

Bavleen began the rare sport of Rythmic Gymnastics, but soon found that finding facilities to train for it was next to impossible. Even now, her training base is the badminton hall at Jammu’s MA Stadium, where around 200 others also train with her. All of them had their eyes trained on the television screen as their local hero opened her performance with Queen’s ‘I want to break free’ and ended with ‘Gallan Goodiyan’.

“Most girls in India lack backing in such an under-rated sport. There is no respect or recognition. Nobody is ready to sponsor Rhythmic Gymnastics. Everyone labels us as ribbon dancers and compare us to circus members, but Rhythmic Gymnastics is much more elegant than people think,” she said.

Going against stereotypes

For a very long time now, sports have taken a back seat in Jammu and Kashmir. With the exception of cricket, parents usually support their children only up to a certain age. All sporting ambitions vanish as a child reaches the age of roughly 14. Cricket has tragically cast a shadow over all other sports here, but Bavleen has showed many the path to succeed in other arenas.

Bavleen’s father, the 55-year-old Rajendra Singh, a government employee, told The Bridge that Bavleen’s perseverance was what made her special.

“In a society like in J&K, most parents don’t allow their daughters to take up sports because of stereotypes of what women should do. But such an attitude harms the futures of these women and also the development of India when it comes to sports,” he said.

He also said that the central government is giving a push to the likes of Bavleen by having the Khelo India Games. After all, it was at the 2018 KIYG in Pune that Bavleen first broke out.

Since then, she has won three gold medals and two silver medals at the national level, establishing herself and her state in this sport. At the Khelo India School Games 2018, she won four medals, two of which were gold.

“It was an honour to represent the country at the CWG. All thanks go to my coaches and the sports council, who have worked tirelessly to help me reach this stage. I will do my best to carry on and improve in future meets,” Bavleen said.

Her coach Krupali Singh said, “Bavleen’s appearance on the CWG was a tremendous moment for all of us. She is an elite gymnast who has made J&K proud many times already.”

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