This Unbelievably Amazing Manipuri Female Body Builder Is Making India Proud
As I casually chat with Bhogirot Thingbaiyam and his father at their residence at Khongjom in Thoubal district of Manipur, Bhogirot’s wife serves us tea and snacks. Dressed in an elegant traditional Meitei dress the soft spoken lady is the quintessential traditional Meitei (the major community of Manipur) woman. But a cursory glance at her ripped arms reminds me that her demureness should not be mistaken for weakness. This 30 year old mother of two is the first Indian woman to win the national bodybuilding championship three times in a row and she has also made the nation proud in the international level many times.
Thingbaijam Sarita Devi has brought laurels to the nation in a sport that many Indian women still do not dare to venture into. Women’s bodybuilding in India is still at the growing stage and Sarita is among the handful of ladies who have made India proud at the international level. Though there has been a lot of participation in the ‘fitness model’ category in bodybuilding championships, the number of female bodybuilders is still very few in India. Strong women flexing their muscles and displaying their ripped bodies is something that the Indian concept of beauty or womanhood has still not completely reconciled with. We may worship goddesses as symbol of strength but a strong woman makes our patriarchal society still feel insecure. Sarita is one such woman who has not only challenged gender stereotypes but has also dispelled the myth that a strong and successful woman is a threat to the traditional way of life.
Even though several women sportsperson have made India proud at the international level most of the Indians are still not free from the stigmas and stereotypes around women in sports. A lot of parents are reluctant to let their daughters take up sports as they are afraid it will affect their femininity. The stigmas and stereotypes attached to women in bodybuilding and other power sports are much more intense. In this regard, the support she gets from her husband and in-laws is an example for others.
Thingbaijam Sarita Devi was born on Feb 1, 1986 in Manipur which is rightfully called the powerhouse of Indian sports. How much value Manipuris attach to sports is evident from the simple fact that sports activities are an integral and significant part of celebrations of the five-day long Meitei festival Yaosang ( Holi). Both boys and girls are highly encouraged to participate in sports activities in the Manipuri society. Sarita’s family was no exception and her passion for sports was backed by her elder sister and other family members right from her childhood. Sarita had taken part in various sports competitions but had not picked up any particular discipline or had not thought about becoming a sports person.
“I had taken part in various sports competitions but my sports career started after my marriage.” Sarita says. It was indeed her love affair and subsequent marriage to Bhogirot Thingbaijam that changed her life forever. Bhogirot was a martial arts player at that time and he had also won a bronze medal in a national championship though he never participated in any competition after that. The young lovers got married when she was 18. Soon the couple had two sons. But childbirth had some adverse effects on her health and it started to deteriorate.
“I thought I should take up some sport to regain my health and maintain fitness. I discussed it with my husband and he suggested I take up bodybuilding.” She says.
“Sarita was not sure about which sport to pick up but I saw that she had the natural potential for bodybuilding. She had an excellent body structure and I knew she would be able to make it really big in that field.” Bhogirot adds.
About her motivation to join competitions Sarita says, “In 2012 I started training at the gym under the guidance of my husband. I was doing great at the gym and soon the result was visible. I was gradually developing muscles and everyone at the gym was impressed. The trainers at the gym were so impressed by my physique that they encouraged me to participate in bodybuilding competitions.” Encouraged by her trainers, her husband and her in laws she participated in a bodybuilding completion for the first time in her life the same year. It was a state level competition named Miss Kangleipak and she bagged a silver medal in the open category. This made her more confident and next year she again participated in the completion and bagged silver medal again.
In 2014 she forayed into the national and international arena for the first time. She took part in a national competition held at Odisha but did not get any medal. In 2014 she represented India in the Asian championship in Macau and was placed fifth. In 2014 the World Championship was held in Mumbai. It was the first time that India was holding this championship. She came fifth. In 2015 she clinched the overall champion title in the Satish Sagar Classic national competition held in Bangalore. The Same year she bagged the silver medal in the 49th Asian Bodybuilding Championship held in Uzbekistan. In 2016 she bagged the bronze in the World Championship held in Bangkok. The Same year she clinched the overall title in national championship held in Maharashtra. Again she bagged the silver medal at the 50th Asian Championship held in Bhutan in 2016 and came fourth in the World Championship held in Pattaya. In 2017 she clinched the overall champion title in the Senior Women’s’ Championship held in Madhya Pradesh. Again she clinched Senior Women’s Miss India title at the senior Mr. India competition held at Gurgaon. 2017 she won the bronze medal at the 51st Asian Championship held in South Korea and silver medal at the World Body Building And Physique Championship 2017 held in Mongolia. She is now preparing hard for the World Championship to be held in Mongolia later this year. Meanwhile, she has been the state champion in Manipur for five consecutive years.
Sarita’s in-laws have been very supportive and her husband has been a great source of motivation for her. The 35-year-old Bhogirot believes men should not feel insecure about successful and strong women. “Confining a woman to the home and destroying her talents is not right. I told Sarita to go out and be a role model for other women. The other women especially young girls get inspired when they see Sarita’s achievements.” Bhogirot says. “Seeing Sarita gaining national and international fame makes other women dream big and that is important.”
A lot of men and women today train under Sarita and some of them have already made their mark in the field of bodybuilding. She has been a source of inspiration for a lot of men and women in India.
Sarita has successfully managed to balance her family life with a busy schedule of regular workout, training other bodybuilders and preparing for competitions. She is very much attached to her two sons Tamo and Nanao. Her in-laws are also very proud of her. Sarita reiterates that a woman who pursues her talents in any field is not necessarily a threat to traditions and values. “Every woman should be a good mother and guide her children in a proper way with a positive outlook. Women should also be aware and create awareness about sports. Sports is not just about fitness but a platform for inculcating discipline and morality in people. A society full of people who value discipline and morality will certainly be peaceful.” concludes Sarita.
(With Imomacha Heisnam)
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