A family that plays together, stays together.
This was the tenet that the Singh household of Varanasi has lived by, giving the nation not one, not two but four international basketball players who’ve done India proud at various major competitions.
Eldest sister Priyanka has represented her state of Uttar Pradesh and was vital in paving the way forward for her younger siblings. Two of those five sisters - Divya and Prashanti - have captained the national side in the past, while Akanksha and Pratima are crucial players in the national setup.
Hailing from one of the spiritual centres of India, Varanasi, sports were always on the back burner for most in the city, even more so for girls. The Singh sisters’ banker father wasn’t very keen on his daughters taking up sports, pushing them towards academics instead.
Their mother, Urmila Singh, though always backed her daughters’ sporting endeavours; and encouraged them towards basketball despite facing backlash and taunts from most in the city, the girls would share in a 2011 interview with NDTV later.
The sisters though proved everyone wrong as they managed to overcome societal stereotypes and made their way to the top. They would make the most of the sporting facilities at their college, the Uday Pratap College in Varanasi and spend hours honing their skills at the basketball court.
They were also fortunate to train under a coach from the Sports Authority of India (SAI) who helped change their outlook towards the game and temporarily developed Varanasi into a basketball hub of the nation.
The Singh sisters were naturally early risers like most in the religious city and used that to their advantage as they began their basketball practice early in the day. They followed a disciplined schedule each day which had their school hours sandwiched between basketball training in the mornings and evenings. It was this dedicated approach that helped them shatter glass ceilings and put Varanasi on the sporting map of India.
After performing well at several domestic and State-level tournaments, the international stage came calling. 2000 was a watershed moment for the family as Divya Singh made her debut for India, with the three others becoming full internationals within the next half a dozen years.
Divya and Prashanti were part of the Indian team for the 2006 Commonwealth Games, with the former captaining them to a sixth-place finish. Divya called it quits soon after the Games, passing the baton to the youngest two siblings, Akanksha and Pratima.
Three of the five sisters were part of the Indian roster for the 2010 Asian Games. However, that was a tournament to forget for the country’s women basketballers as they remained winless throughout and finished at the bottom.
Four years later though, India had a better showing at the Asiad in Incheon, South Korea where they finished in sixth place, with sisters Prashanti and Akanksha spearheading the Indian side.
Three of the five Singh sisters are still a part of the Indian basketball setup and have helped popularise the sport amongst the nation’s next generation through their efforts on and off the court. Prashanti was also conferred the Arjuna award in 2017 for her continued contribution towards Indian basketball.
Off the court
Having made it to the top of the Indian basketball circuit, the Singh sisters now have taken the onus upon themselves to spread the sport in the nation. The sisters believe that the talent of many women basketballers never sees the light of day due to unsupportive families and societal norms.
They hope that their success can inspire several budding athletes of the nation towards venturing into a career in sports. Divya Singh, a sports management degree holder, works towards improving the marketability and finances of the sport today, while Akansha works with the Delhi University in providing a platform for the young talent to shine.
And with basketball gaining some steam in the past few years, one can hope that their efforts will go a long way in boosting India’s profile as a basketball nation.