“Do people really believe that girls are weak and incompetent? I think people only say this when they are afraid of girls; that if we are given freedom, we’ll far surpass them.” In a moving moment in Uraaz Bahl‘s documentary on her life, archer Deepika Kumari best sums up the fallacies of male insecurities and ego which can often have disastrous consequences.
Perhaps that is why, despite being a world-class archer, despite achieving so much in so little time, confidence still eludes her.
The taunting tones that she grew up with when she decided to venture into a sport, they keep coming back to her. In a moment of shaky disbelief, the former World No 1 even starts believing them. And herein lies the crux of Netflix’s “Ladies First”.
What exactly is it about women coming to the forefront that is deemed unacceptable in the Indian society? It’s a commentary on how deep-rooted sexism is in the country when a top archer repeatedly questions herself and her abilities and prioritises the society’s disapproval of her.
In a country that ranks quite high in the world when it comes to crises in population, corruption, gender inequality and literacy rates, it should come as a small surprise to people that no Indian female sportsperson has ever won an Olympic Gold. Throughout history, there have been some scattered moments of brilliance where it looked as if that trend would change. Deepika Kumari has been one such bright spot.
Her story has been well documented ever since she convincingly established herself as a force to reckon with, with Cadet World Championship Gold. What this documentary does differently is to hold up her example to show why female athletes in India have a harder time battling hardships and winning medals. Along with personal hardships that plague lower income groups, what girls also need to do is fight stereotypes.
And one can understand the exhaustion that comes along with it while watching Deepika through her journey. The pressure to constantly prove yourself, to fight against not only the apathy of the Indian sports system but against the discouragement so generously offered by people around you. There is a point in the documentary where she says how even educated people believe that sports are not for girls. This, more than anything, points to the general regressive mentality that is a trademark of India.
More than 70 years on since India achieved her independence yet somewhere along the line, basic problems have not been addressed. In a very fitting marketing strategy. Netflix’s documentary was released on International Working Women’s Day. Over the world, the day is marked to commemorate the struggle women used to face and have been facing on a daily basis.
It reminds us of a woman’s right to work, to choose her means of sustenance. If she wants to spend her life without being dependent on another to survive, she is allowed to make the choice. Deepika comes from a village where its the norm to marry their daughters off at 18. “Had I stayed in the village, I would have been married by now.” Ladies First is definitely the beginning of something refreshing. To the girl from Jharkhand who fought starvation and poverty, to the woman who refused to bow down to patriarchy, to the world class archer with a shaky belief in herself- to Deepika Kumari. This is a fitting tribute.
“When people say girls cannot play sports, I think they are crazy”. Deepika sums up her life with just one sentence delivered with a cheeky smile. To such people, she has nothing to say. As she mentions, she would rather let her arrows do the talking.