Me, The Change: ‘Dangal Queen’ Wrestler Divya Kakran Knows No Fear
(This story was originally published on 27 November 2018 and is being republished from The Quint’s archives on the occasion of Divya Kakran winning gold at the Asian Wrestling Championships 2020.)
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“Today you are giving us Rs 3 crores because I have won a medal but when I needed the money the most you didn’t even take my call. Reduce my prize money now. Use the money to support upcoming sports persons who need it more than me.”Divya Kakran, Asian Games Wrestling Bronze Medallist
This is what Asian Bronze Medallist wrestler Divya Kakran told Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal during a felicitation ceremony in New Delhi in September 2018. That’s Divya Kakran for you in a nutshell. The 21-year-old girl who speaks her mind, does what she believes in and is scared of no one.
The ‘Dangal Queen’ is Born
It is this fearlessness that pushed her to fight boys in dangals from the age of 10. Her father Suraj Pehelwan came to Delhi from Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh to become a wrestler but he just couldn’t make the cut. Poverty and lack of support forced him to abandon wrestling. Instead he ended up selling ‘langots’ (traditional wrestling loincloth) in dangals.
“I couldn’t become a wrestler but I really wanted one of my kids to become a famous wrestler. So I started taking Divya to dangals. But no one wanted to fight a girl.”Suraj Pehelwan, Divya Kakran’s father
Finally a young boy’s father bet Rs 500 on a fight. He was sure his son will defeat Divya but it was Divya who beat the boy to a pulp and took home her first prize money. That day the ‘Dangal Queen’ was born.
From the Mud to the Mat
Divya was the undisputed ruler of the dangal but the real game was on the mat where one could aim for national and eventually international glory. It was not easy for Divya to wrestle because she belongs to a lower caste. A few castes dominate Indian wrestling and it’s difficult for other castes’ wrestlers to break into the scene.
“Divya has never hesitated to tell people that she comes from a lower caste. She always uses her surname Kakran. When she goes abroad and is asked about her roots, she says that she comes from a barber community.”Sanyogita, Divya Kakran’s Mother
Divya defeated her male opponents in over 23 dangals across the country before getting a chance to get into professional wrestling. Her first big win was a gold at Asian Cadet under-17 championships. Divya has been unstoppable since then, all she needed was a chance. She has bagged the bronze medal at the Commonwealth and Asian Games.
The Elections and The Olympics
With more than 60 medals under her belt, Divya has now set her eyes on the biggest trophy. She’s training relentlessly. Her aim is to win a wrestling medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But before that another battle will be fought back home in India. Political parties will slug it out during the general elections in 2019. And this will be the first time that Divya Kakran will vote and she’s very clear on what she wants.
“My vote will go for a political party and leader who will nurture young sporting talent of our country. And take care of them financially when they need it the most.”Divya Kakran, Asian Games Wrestling Bronze Medallist
But for the time being Divya has to grapple with a very different problem. In the electoral roll her name and gender is incorrect. She hopes the error is fixed before the 2019 general elections.