Identities in sports, gender, and culture

Since Britain colonized India and India gained its freedom, women have been systematically marginalized in practically every aspect of society. Similar to this, sports became one of the main contexts where discrimination against women flourished and powerfully showed in illustrating gender inequities in a male-dominated culture. The situation in the case of India is complex since it goes beyond the alleged sociopsychological barriers that women in the largely patriarchal society face. Men control every aspect of Indian society and are overwhelmingly thought of as the better sex. Thus, the paper’s thesis is informed by the necessity to emphasize the various viewpoints on sports, gender, and cultural identity that Arjun Appadurai and James Mills present in their respective arguments. Appadurai’s Arguments about Sports, Gender, And Cultural Identity

According to Appadurai, the process by which the concept of the cricket game got entrenched in the Indian culture considerably changed the social, cultural and political identity of India. Gradually, cricket as a sport became indigenized in the colonial India before subsequently becoming a symbol of national heritage with far-reaching cultural implications that inadvertently heightened the level of male dominance in the India. Thus, cricket led to the making of a distinction between the hard and soft cultural norms (Appadurai 26). The hard cultural norms got epitomized by the set of links that espoused value, meaning and embodied practice in the cricket game which made it almost impossible to break or transform.

On the other hand, the soft cultural forms, by contrast, were those that permitted easy separation of embodied performance from meaning and value. Ultimately, cricket became a solid aesthetic form that changed those that associated and socialized with it to accept the individual changes it portended. Cricket did not readily become susceptible to reinterpretation was based on its penetration of the social boundaries and that the values it represented emanated from a strict and rigid adherence to external codes which further enhanced moral development among the pursuant of the sport (Appadurai 31).

Appadurai further addresses the impact of cricket in shaping a patriarchal society by suggesting that according to the Indian imagination, one ought to understand how cricket efficiently links gender, the nation, fantasy and real excitement. According to Appadurai, among the Indian upper classes, especially in as far as they can insulate themselves from the masses while paying attention to cricket, women have remained primarily ignored (42). Most Indians have been socialized to perceive that cricket is a strictly male-dominated game regarding players, managers, commentators, aficionados and even live audiences (Appadurai 43).

Imperatively, the Indian woman only plays a secondary role as a spectator and is twice removed from watching males play. Meanwhile, male engagement gets deeply enshrined from the imagined bodily pleasure of playing which contribute significantly to the reason why women continue to exist within the periphery. Most significantly, Appadurai suggests that the convergence of the state, media and other private sector interests underscore India’s identity while the bodily pleasure which forms the core component of the cricket game contribute to the erotics of the nationhood (40). As such, cricket became a symbol of nationhood and as a means of achieving modernity which inadvertently led to the creation of an extremely male dominant culture (Appadurai 45).

Mills’ Arguments about Sports, Gender, and Cultural Identity

John Mills provide the highlights of Manipur beating Bengal 2-0 in a hotly contested women football match during the national championship which catapulted the team to national glory and stardom. Other newspaper agencies were not so appreciative of the fete because Manipur had strolled the competition being relative newcomers. The most outstanding feature of the competition was its exclusiveness to women involvement, an unprecedented achievement in a society that had considerably relegated women to second-hand roles. Such was the peculiarity of the national women’s championship event in a country that had become known for gender biases and absolute control on their behavior with specific emphasis on female decorum (Mills 174).

As such, Manipur’s triumph served to set new trends in the reversal of sporting traditions given the history of football in India. Mills further highlight the role of women and power within the Manipur community. It, therefore, emerges that the Manipur women had a traditional history of emancipation. They acted in togetherness to achieve their social, economic and political objectives in ways that had not been witnessed in India because, in essence, the Manipuris did not silence and muzzle their women. As a consequence, the Manipuri women appeared to be more enlightened and progressive than any other group of women in India. They sought to enjoy a certain level of autonomy from cultural norms that restricted their activities and forms of expression. Similarly, within the economic sphere, the Manipuri women stood against every type of oppression and punitive restrictions that aimed at reducing or limiting their ability to endow themselves (Mills 175).

Thus, the common incidents involving the Manipur women did not spontaneously arise from nowhere but instead emanated from the traditional and culturally sanctioned patterns of behavior. Invariably, before the coming of the British, women had their legal systems besides having vibrant central markets that gave them an economic significance within the larger Meitei society while also endowing them with the collective benefits of collective action (Mills 178). The Manipuri have therefore undergone revolutionary fetes to gain national and regional recognition that recognizes their legitimacy as part of India’s progressive communities when it comes to liberating women.

In modern football, the Meitei women demonstrated their prowess based on a long-standing physical culture and experience of team games. Thus the emergence of modern sport in Manipuri reflects the female autonomy. Alternatively, the football successes combine some messages of resistance and defiance that makes the Meitei society different from other Indian communities because of the prominence of its women. More interestingly, the Manipur rejects the Indian sporting world and instead participates in other global sports culture. In the same vein, the Manipuri do not recognize cricket as part of their heritage but instead embrace football to represent their cultural and social milestones (Mills 185).

Analysis on how Chakde India reflects some of these arguments.

The movie “Chak De! India” was produced in the year 2007 as a Bollywood sports film. The storyline got based on the sport of hockey in India. According to the storyline, it becomes imperative to take cognizance of the fact that it is simple but carries a deeply sophisticated and intriguing message that invariably reflects the Indian situation with regards to gender inequality and male patriarchy. Kabir Khan is portrayed as the best center-forward in the team’s lineup who has played at the World Cup finals while captaining the Indian team against Pakistan (Chak De! India 2007). The Indian team was lagging behind when a chance presented itself in the form of a penalty which Kabir Khan ultimately squandered. The missed opportunity, therefore, marked the downward spiral for Kabir Khan who subsequently got dropped from the national team only to begin a long, laborious climb back to the top with the female national team in preparation for the World Cup finals to be held in Australia. The movie “Chak De! India” reflects Appadurai and Mill’s arguments in the following ways:

Exclusion by Religion

Given India’s diversity in religious representation of various faiths, the movie depicts discrimination based on religion. Although India predominantly practices Hinduism, there are other several faiths and belief systems like Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. Primarily, those practicing these different religions have created for themselves a cultural niche within a shared space, conflicts often arise based on the undermining of the minority group (Chak De! India 2007). In the movie, captain Kabir Khan suffers exclusionism based on his Islamic faith. Consequently, he is called a traitor by his fellow countrymen for his one moment of failure making him disappear into the oblivion. However, the principal stress is on him being a Muslim. Such kind of exclusionism might have been informed by the Manipuri’s insistence on being identified as Sanamahis as opposed to Hindus. Such an attempt at religious revivalism emanates from the existing deprivation by the Indian government.

Exclusion Based on Gender

Gender biases are considered as the most prevalent theme throughout the movie; gender inequality gets depicted in several instances that also blends with the perspectives highlighted by Appadurai and Mills. According to the film, the first case of gender inequality gets portrayed by Komal Chautala who fights with her parents to play hockey and get to represent India at the nationals (Chak De! India 2007). Her struggles are typical to the marginalization that women endure in India because of their gender. In Komal’s case, she is put under pressure to decide on family or hickey. Inherently, her role as a prominent hockey player is not recognized while her abilities are not considered beyond what she can do and offer as a wife in the presence of an increasingly stubborn in-law. Similarly, the team’s captain, Vidya Sharma also gets into making tough decisions regarding her commitment to marriage, her husband Rakesh and the national team or face struggles. The movie exposes the limitation women get subjected to in their quest for social liberation (Chak De! India 2007).

The deprived role of women in the society is also depicted by the attitude of Mr. Tripathi, the head of India’s Hockey Association. Mr. Tripathi tries to discourage Khan’s friend and hockey advocate Uttamaji regarding the team’s future after the finals. Mr. Tripathi opines that the national team has no future whatsoever because their role in the society is to cook and clean. Such restriction to household chores complements Appadurai sentiments regarding the marginalization that women go through in the community (Chak De! India 2007).

Consequently, the fact that women are disregarded even in the decision-making processes points to the gender biases that has marked India for centuries now. Women are, therefore, seen as bearing the social burden as illustrated by Preeti Sabarwal who gets the information that her parents have made arrangements to get her married to Abimanyu Singh without her consent. Therefore, the movie “Chak De! India” successfully depicts the plight of the Indian woman in the male-dominated society, leaving them with little alternatives in life.


To date, Indian women are still struggling for emancipation, equal rights and the need to establish their identity as they are still unable to make a stand for themselves. The changing times continue to change and improve although a lot still needs to get achieved because men always dictate the tempo of how women ought to lead their lives. Gender inequality which is deeply-rooted in cultural perceptions and practices has made progress towards the real change slow and painfully laborious. Such blatant and regressive stereotyping of women has consequently led to the female feticide that has advertently led to the killing of the girl child. In India, it is not uncommon to hear of forced marriages and honorable murder whenever women make their social choices on personal relationships. Far from empowering the girl child through education and social equality, Indians appear to adamantly channel their energies in eliminating women from this world based on dogmatic principles. Therefore, gender inequality, above anything else, makes India unprogressive and can only bring meaningful gains as captured in the words of Pandit Nehru, “to awaken the people, the woman must be awakened.”

Works Cited

Appadurai, Arjun. “Playing with modernity: the decolonization of Indian cricket.” Altre Modernità 14 (2015): 24-46.

Chak De! India. Dir. Shimit Amin. Pro. Aditya Chopra. Perf. Jaideep Sahni, Shah Rukh Khan. YouTube, Yash Raj Films, 2007,

Mills, James H., ed. Subaltern sports: politics and sport in South Asia. Anthem Press, 2005.

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