She is one of the most sought after female sporting stars in India but when Saina Nehwal was born in patriarchal Haryana, her own grandmother refused to look at her because of the inherent discrimination against the girl child in the state.
"I was really surprised when I was told that my grandmother did not come to see me till a month after my birth. I was born seven years after my only sister Chandranshu and my birth was a big disappointment for her," the ace shuttler, fresh from a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, wrote in a column for India Today magazine.
"But in it there is a message that I understand very well now about the discrimination against the girl child," she said.
Saina still counts her blessings for having parents who were liberal enough to allow her pursue sports.
"My mother Usha Rani had represented Haryana in badminton and she was consistent in her encouragement. That helped me build my career successfully and at just 14, I had a sponsor in Bharat Petroleum and Deccan Chronicle. Bow, we live in an apartment bought with my prize money and my parents have taken care that it is in my name," she revealed.
"Many Haryanvi sportspersons, particularly women, are not half as lucky. They do not have generous sponsors even after doing exceedingly well," she rued.
But she lauded the Haryana government's efforts to recognise international performers.
"The Haryana Government has in the last two years offered several incentives—the highest prize money for medal winners at the Commonwealth Games and a car too. No state has matched this so far. This is a welcome sign for sportswomen as it gives them new recognition," she said.
Haryana, which has a skewed sex ratio of 847 women to every 1000 men, is notorious for female infanticide and honour killings.
Saina said given the scenario, it was incredible to have Haryana women doing well in the sporting arena.
"Men are domineering in rural Haryana and that shows in sport too. That Haryanvi women are in the spotlight for their excellent performance and have brought many medals to the state should make a difference," she said.
The 20-year-old revealed that her ties with her relatives have strained on the issue of how the women in the family should be treated.
"My uncles and other relatives are against encouraging girls in every aspect and that includes sports. I hardly interact with them. My parents are more open. They back me all the way," she said. PTI