Breaking The Stereotype: Meet Hetal Dave, India's Only Female Sumo Wrestler
“When we think of a Sumo Wrestler nowhere a female comes in our mind. But breaking the stereotype, Hetal Dave(22) has become the first and only female Sumo Wrestler in India. Going by her looks, one can’t put her in the category of Sumo wrestlers but she does the job well internationally. She may be a bit heavy for the average Indian body, but is nowhere near obese or even fat. She shared her journey, struggle and success with The Logical Indian.
You are the first and only sumo female wrestler in India, tell us about your journey how did it all start?
I started early at 5. I have never been like a stereotypical girl in India, never liked playing with Barbie or listening to Cinderella story etc. I always loved the fight related movies as a child. I would watch Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee movies and use those tricks on my brother. My father noticed my inclination towards wrestling so he looked for a martial art classes and took me there. Maybe it was my destiny that day they were training on JUDO, and I got into it.
What are your major contributions or achievements to the sports and to India?
I started with JUDO and represented India, and have played Asian Championship twice. I have played world championship and was 5th in the ranking in 2010. I am a sole wrestler and have to play alone, I believe if I had someone to guide when I am in the ring, I could do a lot better because I miss small pointers and feedback on my game.
How did the switch from JUDO to SUMO wrestling happen?
We had SUMO male wrestler from India who represented India, so I used to watch them as women were not allowed to play in India, and there is no professional SUMO wrestling in India. We have men from all across India coming for SUMO practice, so I did practice with them and sometimes defeated them as well. And it was a moral boost and I got a hang of it.
What were the challenges as India’s sole female SUMO wrestler?
SUMO wrestling is not recognized by Government, it is not in Olympics, and there are no professional tournaments happening officially. So I was all alone, my coach said you can do it, but you need to fetch your own sponsors. So I had to do everything my own.
What is the road ahead for future female SUMO wrestlers in India and the world, will the tribe grow?
Women usually don’t take chances for SUMO wrestling, as there are so many challenges, no awareness about the sport, no sponsors, no government support, and no official wrestling tournaments. But international level numbers are on the rise. If Government supports and sponsors come up, the numbers will definitely grow in India too.
What were the biggest challenges you faced?
The biggest challenge is I am still unemployed. I am not able to support my family when it is my time to give back to my family and it affects me in many ways.
Have you faced any discrimination as women?
I have always been training with men so I did not feel anything negative coming to me as a sports person. But people comment on you for being different but being in this sport and being in wrestling that you need to take easily. I get comments like “Ye ladki SUMO pahalwan hai isake sath kon rahega, kon isase shadi karega, isako to ghar ka kuch kam bhi nahi aata hoga”. They see only one aspect of me whether I can cook or can do house chores or not, and people stereotyped me.
What keeps you going despite so many challenges?
When I go for world tournament, they are so proud of seeing an Indian girl there. “Jab me Ring me jati hu to pura Stadium Khada ho jata hai sab log sath me India-India kar ke encourage karte hai” . That is the vibration I get from the world, I feel so proud, that keeps me moving and I forget what happens to me in India.
Tell us about your family and their contribution to your success?
I give 100% credit to my family. I am not from a well to do family, my father hardly could give my school fee. But seeing my interest, he always encouraged me to do things I like. Even today he will not say no to anything I wish to do, so he is my backbone. In India as a cultural norm, a girl’s father has to save money for her marriage, so my father had also done some, but he spent all those savings for sending me to the tournaments. That is why I feel bad that I am not able to support him now when it is my turn so something for my family. People don’t understand it and say, “Agar tere ko Naukari karana tha to Wrestling kyo kiya padhai karane ka tha na”. But I am hopeful one day when this sports becomes well known in Indian people will know why I doing this.
Why are other girls not coming forward for this sport?
There are various reasons, as the sport is not seen as something for girls. There is no family support, governments support and social support. When you play in school, teachers say, “Tum jao khelo tumko padai se kya lena-dena hai, tum to khel ke hi duniya jeet loge” and it brings your moral down.
What can we do to make India sports-friendly country?
We need to encourage kids to pursue their interest. Even if they are not good at studies, let them pursue sports. In my personal experience, I have seen my students when they took up sports their morals get boosted and they started doing good in studies as well. You have to persue your interest and everything around will turn positive.
Any message to The Logical Indian Community?
The Logical Indian is doing an amazing job, you have a great community of concern people, keep up the work. To everyone “Go for what your heart says, you may have to find ways around it but ultimately everything around you will turn positive and help you achieve what you want”
The Logical Indian hopes Hetal gets the support and the sponsors she needs and many join her tribe and represent India.