Knocking down adversity
Though hope floats in this remote village in Haryana, there would have been times when Neetu has had a chance to reflect on her turbulent past.
Turning out in national colours at the Junior World Wrestling Championships in Brazil this August would have been one when the mind rewound to the trauma of being married off at 13 to a mentally challenged man, 30 years her senior, in Bhiwani.
Another occasion was when the village elders, who once opposed her entry to the male-dominated akharas, felicitated her on her return from the Kerala National Games earlier this year with a silver medal.
Now 21, she narrates with pride her decision to walk out of the marriage on the third day, despite fierce opposition from her family.
“Initially, I hardly had an idea of what was taking place in my life. After all, I was just 13. But within a week, I was mature enough to take the bold step and eventually my family supported the decision,” said Neetu.
Reeling from the shock of her former father-in-law trying to force himself on her, Sanjay, her second husband, came as a saviour. “Had he not extended his hand, my life would have been ruined,” she said.
Motherhood beckoned at 14 and economic hardships pushed her passion to the backburner till her twin sons were a little older.
“I had a fascination for sport since my childhood, but as things went awry I didn’t get a chance to pursue it. I became a mother at 14 and the family’s financial condition didn’t allow me to think about sport for the next two-three years. Finally, I started wrestling in 2011, and in 2014, I won my first medal in the Nationals.”
In the hope that wrestling would change her family’s fortunes, the discomfort of spending six hours daily commuting to her training centre at the Chotu Ram Stadium in Rohtak city are borne with a smile.
“Since I can’t train alone and there is hardly any facility in my village, I travel to Rohtak and it takes one-and-half to two hours one way. To reach the training centre at 5.30am, my day starts at 3am and I return home by around 9pm,” said Neetu.
The day she travels in a roadways bus, she avoids buying a ticket by posing as a student. The money saved is used to buy a glass of juice. “The body will mould the way you want it,” she smiled weakly.
The decision to step out and earn for the family came when she was seven months pregnant. “I had an argument with my mother-in-law, and to improve my mood, my husband took me out for a ride but on the way back the scooter broke down. When he checked his pocket, he had only seven rupees and that was when I decided to work.”
From tilling land, working in a gift shop to stitching clothes, she’s done it all. It was chance meeting with a yoga coach that changed the way things were. “I was around 11 when I used to go to the stadium, but that stopped as my family was against it. When I saw the (yoga) coach, I recognised him and that meeting changed everything,” she recalled.
“He gave me the number of wrestling coach Ziley Singh and I expressed my desire to join despite being a mother of two. Ziley sir told me if Mary Kom can win medal in Olympics after motherhood, why can’t you.”
This sent her hopes soaring.
“Ours is a small village but now it has got recognition because of Neetu’s achievements,” said husband Sanjay.