The hurt of gender inequality drove Dipa Karmakar to perfect one of the most difficult routines in artistic gymnastics.
For Dipa Karmakar, the Produnova isn’t just her signature move on the gymnastics mat. The "vault of death" is her stand for equal opportunity for women gymnasts in India.
Dipa Karmakar is one of five women gymnasts in the world to have successfully executed the highly-difficult Produnova vault, with the move launching her to the podium in multiple competitions and handing her a historic fourth-place finish at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
The Tripura-born gymnast, however, didn’t start perfecting the most renowned yet feared move in gymnastics just to win medals.
“When I was breaking through, Ashish Kumar had just won a silver medal in gymnastics at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. For women, however, the situation was very different,” Dipa Karmakar recalled in a chat with the Olympic Channel.
“The perception back then was women gymnasts came to the camps for the food and vacation. All the facilities were for the boys. We had to wait our turn before using the equipment,” she pointed out.
Leading into the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, Dipa remembers a foreign coach lining up the women gymnasts and stating ‘only the boys had any chance of winning a medal.’
“That hurt me a lot. Even my coach Bishweshwar Nandi was brought to tears. I felt betrayed and thought ‘why can’t women?
“That’s when Nandi sir and I came up with the idea of working on the Produnova. It was difficult but I was determined to win a medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and prove the doubters wrong,” Karmakar revealed.
Dipa Karmakar went on to win the bronze at Glasgow even with a swollen foot.
“The support from the rest of the women in the contingent back then was incredible. Maybe if I had failed to bring a medal on that day, women’s artistic gymnastics in India may have been over,” the 27-year-old said.
The Commonwealth bronze, however, was only a start of her illustrious career.
Dipa has since been a part of an extraordinary batch, including Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik, MC Mary Kom, the Phogat sisters and several others, who have broken the glass ceiling to bring Indian women athletes to the fore.
Dipa Karmakar, too, admits that the winds of change have been strong.
“Nowadays, if a woman achieves success, the nation celebrates with much more gusto and rightfully so. Indian sportswomen, in the past, have always been shunned to the background,” she said.
“So, any success they achieve is a story of beating the odds. Now, steadily but surely it’s being proven that women can achieve as much as any man can.”
With International Day of the Girl Child due to be observed on October 11, Dipa’s story is definitely a tale of grit and passion worth celebrating.