“There are some men in sports who think women are home material!” - Anuradha Beniwal
National Chess Champion Anuradha Beniwal is now just known for being fearless about expressing her viewpoints, she is an inspiration to many girls from rural India who are struggling to make their dreams come true.
Anuradha is using her game in which she is a master – Chess, as a tool to transform the future of girls who hail from the necessitous background, overcome an alcohol addiction, fighting the drug issues among youngsters and a lot more.
Recently, we at Apeksha News Network has an exclusive interaction with former national chess champion Anuradha Beniwal who speaks her mind about issues related to women in sports and shares about her initiative ‘Jiyo Beti’. Check out the excerpts to get some inspiration!
What did you dream of being when you were a little girl?
Many things. I thought I will be the best chess player in the world! Although I didn't really know what it means. But because I was told that in chess your gender, class, country does not matter. Anyone who thinks the best will win, I thought that was not too hard and so decided that I will think so hard, so hard, that I will be a World Champion.
I also wanted to be a cop, wear the uniform and make the boys in my street scared of me. But that was when I was 16 or 17 years old. As a child, I guess what most I wanted to become was a good girl, who should be liked by everyone and have a nice house, have a car, wear nice clothes and be the best wife, daughter-in-law and daughter, something similar to a 90s’ heroine of Hindi films. I was very docile and to be liked by all was my biggest goal, which of course changed later.
With which character do you relate to yourself in the game of chess?
I never thought of it, but if I do then maybe the Queen. She can travel far, without much support and take care of small dangers herself!
Women in sports are still not taken seriously as compared to male counterparts in India. What is your opinion on same?
I think the media should answer that! Right now, Tennis Fed Cup is going on and there is not a single channel streaming it. A cricket match of Bangladesh and West Indies must be live on some channel. It is not so much about male and female here, we don't know our hockey team, basketball team, volleyball team be it men's or women's. We don't know our athletes. We know Hima Das, we know Mary Kom, we know Mathali Raj, we know what is being told to us and what is being shown. We take Vinesh Pogat seriously. I feel that it is not about gender, there are a lot of things at play here.
You are working on an initiative, ‘Jiyo Beti’ to transform the future of girls who come from the financially poor background using chess. Please share a little about its successful journey.
Being a chess player transformed my life. I come from a very small village where there were not many opportunities. I found chess and it changed my life. I played for many years, represented India in the Sub-Junior World Championship and now I run an Ltd. Chess coaching company with 10-12 employees in London.
I wanted to teach the same skill that changed my life to the girls back home. With this vision, I started ‘Jiyo Beti’, where I teach chess to underprivileged girls in India. Jiyo Beti Empower on Wheels is divided into three stages. The first stage is when I am physically present in the school where I teach the girls how to play chess. I use chess as a tool to access their lives and empower them in different ways, like reading, talking, listening, teaching, etc. In the second stage, the girls who learnt with me take the responsibility to teach the rest of their classmates, they turn into chess coaches. We do weekly chess lessons where I give them lesson plans. The third stage is where these girls who have learnt chess are employed as chess coaches by Jiyo Beti, where they get paid. They start from stage one!
Out of these girls, some will learn chess, some will play tournaments, and some will be coaches like me!
Chess empowers them to take decisions, plan ahead and face consequences of their actions! So far, we have had a great response. In three months of my time in India, more than 200 girls learnt chess and we have begun Jiyo Beti in 3 schools. I will be back in July to continue the same programme and take it to as many schools as possible until it becomes a chain reaction and is able to run successfully without me.
What is the driving force behind everything you do?
I do whatever makes me happy. That is my main drive. I started Jiyo Beti because it gave me so much happiness and satisfaction to spend time with the girls and stay with them in the village if they benefit out of it, it's a bonus!
I believe you can't do things for others thinking you are doing it for ‘others’. It will make you egoistic and miserable! You have to do things for yourself and you will realise when you are happy, everyone else will be too. It gives me happiness when I can change lives, but the purpose is not to ‘change lives’, it is collateral. I feel blessed that get support from all quarters, my family, relatives, girlfriends and strangers!
Movement for equality of women’s rights has been a long battle. Being treated the same as the male counterparts, not better, just the same. Equal opportunities and social rights for women… education, employment, etc. How far has this equality game reached or is successful? Can you suggest ways in which this can be achieved?
We are reaping fruits of women who fought for women rights, and we need to keep doing the same. It is a journey. Though we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go. It is not only a fight for equality but also a fight to respect each other when we are not equal. As an individual, you might be a better cook, I might be a better nurse. I might want to stay at home and be a homemaker and you might want to fly planes. Both should be equally respected.
I also feel very strongly that household work done by women should be monetised! My mother has managed the household work every day for 35 years. She has given birth and brought up two children, but there is nothing in her bank account to show for it. It is a blessing that my father is respectful towards her and has shared property with her, but what if he was not! What if his mind changes one day and he wants her out? There is no tangible saving with my mother. A lot of women have to live with abusive men because they have nowhere to go. They live on their husband's pity because the system or society does not give her enough opportunities to be independent. Although she gets equal rights in her parents’ property still women in the villages are judged if they demand it. So, a lot of them let go of it and only accept occasional gifts from maternal side or husband's kindness.
Having a house of her own and a job that pays her money is the first step towards empowerment. Women should fight tooth and nail to achieve this first step and not depend on their prospective husbands to provide these basics. Don't get married before you have a room of your own! In your name!
How do you think we can encourage women in the field of sports?
We need to stop looking at women as mere wives and mothers, or just someone in relation to a man. If we treat women as individuals rather than ‘women’, then women will take all kinds of professions that are not mainstream and might not suit a marriage CV or an ad on a matrimony website. There will be more athletes, pilots, drivers, constructors, carpenters, plumbers, shopkeepers, reporters, and more.
What do you see as some of the challenges faced by women in sports?
Sexism. A huge amount of sexism. Women have only just started taking up roles other than just being wives and mothers, and there are some ‘brilliant’ minds that think women are not good enough! They will give you examples of how only a few women are good drivers or chess players or writers or scientists etc.
Men have been navigating for ages, they have been taking unfamiliar routes since we know of humankind, while women stayed at home as mothers. We have very recently after loads of feminist movements and upheaval in the society started taking the ‘unconventional’ routes, routes that weren't supposed to suit a woman. We will also get better. But labelling women as ‘not-good-enough’ is as juvenile and derogatory as it can get.
And then there are some ‘men’ in sports who think women are ‘home material’ and if they come into sports, they are free to be taken advantage of. These men are high positioned men who make it difficult for newcomers, they are hunting all the time! They are well ‘respected’ men who take undue advantage of their status and power to harass women in their field. A lot of girls quit playing at an early age or play under a lot of pressure because of these creatures. If they have to continue playing then they can't tell their parents of the harassment they face, because if they do, parents ask them to quit! For example, if a girl is my village is harassed by someone while going to college and she tells her parents, she will be asked to do a distance learning course! Also, there are chances that they will go and beat the harasser nuts. But here there is not one harasser which is the problem, it is the whole system!
Your travelled Europe and the pleasant trip experience was then converted into a book, ‘Aazadi Mera Brand’. Do you think that India is suitable for women travelling alone? Do you have any suggestions for our government to make it better?
I have travelled a lot in India as well. I have found it very safe so far. The difference is, in India, you will have to be careful. You will have to know the beat of a town you are in and follow it. You can't be absolutely carefree like I could be in some counties like Norway or Hungary. It can get tiring in India, to be having to look over your shoulder all the time. The government can only make policies for schools and colleges to be more inclusive, however, there should be more interaction between both genders. I believe the segregation of boys and girls is a big problem. But I think it is getting better, with more and more women coming out of their homes, a lot of women I know travel alone. It's not an alien concept anymore. Society will also get used to it slowly and there will be fewer eyes, fewer hands, that's how evolution happens!
Have you ever been through an experience that made you realize that “woman” and “powerful” were two compatible ideas?
Many. Always. Power is not just able to inflict pain, itis also the power to bear it. And women are champions of that! On a lighter note, we need to be less powerful, when it comes to bearing pain.
Do you think it's important to have an International Women's Day? Why?
It's important to celebrate women who fought the patriarchal status quo and keep on fighting to change laws, cultures, norms, standards that are unfair to one gender. It's important to not forget that if we have a voice today and we are able to express our opinions, vote, marry out of love, not marry, divorce, work, have property rights, travel alone, have or not have kids, and so many more thing that we take for granted today came after a lot of struggle and fight that was put up by generations of women before us.
We need to keep the fight on same for the generations to come until we achieve a society where we will not need the concept of feminism but until then the, "We shall fight, we shall win!"
Apeksha News Network congratulates Anuradha Beniwal for her contribution and commitment towards the Indian society with her services and helping people deal with some of the serious issues with her game. We wish her good luck for all her future endeavours!