Wrestling her way up
Girls in my village now play sports and train in the local grounds, often saying that they want to follow in my footsteps,” says Kavita Devi who is now an inspiration in the very same village which would ridicule her. After all, it’s not easy to go against convention and patriarchal traditions, vehemently upheld by men of little education and no exposure. Coming from a lesser-known place in Haryana’s Jind district where women used to be constrained by diktats, Kavita Devi overcame all hurdles and became the first Indian woman to be signed by World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc (WWE), announced on October 15, 2017.
The story of this 34-year- old woman has its roots in her birthplace. Her struggles started from a young age for choosing a road difficult and less travelled. Her parents are farmers and she has four more siblings. “Many tried to convince me against sports, even my family felt the backlash for my actions. Some even said that I would not have a family or get married, because girls are not meant to be weightlifters,” says Kavita, who has broken many glass ceilings.
Coming from a background which emphasises on a woman’s petite form, physical appeal and homeliness as necessary for marriage, Kavita has turned every notion on its head.
After small competitions held at village levels, Kavita went on to pursue weightlifting, starting her training in 2002. For the next 14 years, she would go on to win various medals, including gold at the 75 kg category at the 2016 South Asian Games. Yet she was hardly a known name until the international platform WWE signed her on. “Most of the expenses were met from our personal kitty. My brother not only encouraged me but also financially provided for my training, food and travel for competitions. The meagre amount that I received from wins and a few state government awards aside, it has been a struggle to meet the costs,” says Kavita. Except for certain sports like cricket, fund crunch and lack of sponsorships plague the majority of athletes in India. To be an international-level sportsperson, one’s diet and training is of foremost importance, and affording it becomes a task.
It was her brother Sanjay Dalal who used Facebook to contact the Great Khali when Kavita had run out of all options and was on the verge of quitting for a permanent job. On February 24, 2016, she joined Khali’s institute — Continental Wrestling Entertainment — and began to train as a professional wrestler. Since then, things have taken a turn for the better, thanks to the guidance and platform.
From ‘Kavita’, she adopted a new ring name ‘Hard KD’. But Kavita’s struggles are still not over as she prepares to leave for Florida in the United States, for her training at WWE’s Performance Center in January 2018. This will mean that she’s going to leave behind a five-year-old son in Jalandhar who has already spent much time without his mother. “I have not been able to be around my son as much as I would like since my training and competitions often take me away from home. He is staying with his aunt in Jalandhar, and will attend school here while I am in Orlando. It is difficult to sacrifice so much but, for me, it’s important that I get to represent my country,” says Kavita, although the future holds no assurances for her.
Her continuity with WWE will depend on her performances, most of which are scripted and staged but it also comes with the risks of injuries. At present, while waiting for her visa confirmation, Kavita maintains a gruelling schedule, practising for close to five hours every day, over and above her regular work-outs. As a role model to many, Kavita advises that it is important to keep going, even when faced with difficult situations.
“First of all, it is important to get out of a negative place, whether it is your village, and surround yourself with those who will support you. Second, this profession comes with a lot of sacrifices, so one has to be prepared for it. Yet the most important achievement is that one gets to represent the country and be a national pride,” beams Kavita, who in spite of the backlash from her own community, time away from her family and uncertain future, continues to strive on.