The glass ceiling in sports: Sikkim's younger generation only hope for breaking gender norms

The glass ceiling in sports: Sikkim's younger generation only hope for breaking gender norms
Photo Credit: Sikkim Voice, Facebook

As Sikkim’s first-ever women’s Cricket tournament - organized by the Sikkim Cricket Association (SICA) where more than 200 players participated and all matches were played at the newly constructed Mining ground at Rangpo - concludes, the state must look closer into its unconscious gender bias and ask itself, “is Sikkim progressive?”

The gender bias that materializes in payment and sexual harassment are issues women have always faced when it comes to sports. In 2010, 31 members from the Indian women’s hockey team lodged an FIR against the team coach for sexual harassment and misconduct. Usually, when a woman voices her complaint, either at home or to her social circle, people are quick to turn the tables around and blame her interest. Victim-shaming is unfortunately all too common.

Sexism exists everywhere. Sportswomen are targeted for their appearance and comments on their performance. If that wasn’t enough, they aren’t paid as well as men. As per reports, a male cricket player in India earns a minimum of Rs. 70 lakhs a year while a woman earns Rs 5-7 lakhs a year. Similarly, on a global level, the FIFA Men’s World Cup 2014 prize money was 400 million but simultaneously, the women’s team was awarded 10 million. 

However, athletes like Kikam Bhutia, Nima Doma Bhutia, Lhako Phuti, Pandi Targain, Karishma Subba have brought attention to the state but they aren’t as well known as their male counterparts. Who hasn’t heard of Bhaichung Bhutia or Nirmal Chettri? It’s true that they have been around longer but men are asked to come on stage and share their stories more than women. This remains an irrefutable fact.

Nevertheless, the government of Sikkim and the sports associations of the state tries their best to ensure that women of Sikkim are given equal opportunities. 

Lobzang G. Tenzing, President of SICA says, “We successfully concluded the first-ever women cricket tournament in the state, the association believes on women empowerment, and we will try to give our best to bring best sportswomen for the state. All the equipment including jersey, tracksuits etc., including food and lodging, were provided by SICA”. 

At this tournament, the first Women’s Kanchenjunga Shield Emerging Player was awarded to Diksha Gurung, a 14-year-old from South Sikkim.

Gurung shares her experience. “I used to play football with my friends at first but an interest in cricket awakened when I voluntary came forward when there was an announcement made by our school headmaster. I practised alongside my friends. Unfortunately, their families didn’t allow them to go to the camp, but mine was supportive. The camp gave me the opportunity to go out of the state. I feel proud to have such a supportive family.”

She adds, “I would like to appeal to parents to let their daughters explore the field of sports and empower women.”

It is important to mull over her words. 

Families make up the core of society as we know now. Patriarchy is a learned system that is consciously passed down through generations. Mass participation and encouragement of women in sports are more recent than one would believe. Therefore if Sikkim aims to become a truly progressive state, the simplest thing parents can do is ask their daughters not to limit their practice time and hurry home. 

Kikam Bhutia, a cricketer who became the first-ever Level-2 coach from the NorthEast to be appointed as a member of coaching staff under Board of Cricket for Control in India coaches the Sikkim women team. 

“It is of great achievement for Sikkim, with all these kinds of facilities we can feature ourselves at the national level, the association is also pushing themselves to empower women in Sikkim” 

She started as a young cricketer but her keen interest in coaching others led her to swiftly complete her Level-A course in 2009 and Level B course in 2010, qualifying as a staff coach for BCCI.

Similarly, Nima Doma Bhutia broke all set stereotypes along with her teammates when her high school Eklavya Model Residential School located in Gangyap West Sikkim created its first all-girls basketball team that went to several state and national level basketball games and won their fair share of accolades. 

She was 12 when she started, 20 when she was selected for the Indian national team and 24 when she was selected to play for the FIBA Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament from November 14 to 17 in Malaysia, 2019. Her experience is a testament to the fact that women have what it takes but there aren’t enough opportunities they can grab if orthodox ideas take precedence in Sikkim’s rather conservative society. 

By Sherab Palden Bhutia. The author is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at paldenborges015@gmail.com.

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