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World Squash Champ Dipika Pallikal Is More Than A Cricketer’s Wife, So Let’s Not Say ‘Wife Of’ In News Headlines!

While one can certainly argue that cricket is almost a religion in India, that is not sufficient reason to describe Dipika as a cricketer's wife, and certainly not in the headlines, which should celebrate her achievement, not his name.

“Dinesh Karthik’s wife Dipika Pallikal powers India to HISTORIC World Doubles Squash C’ships titles”, screamed the headline on Zee News, after the 30 year old squash champion teamed up with Saurav Ghosal and Joshna Chinappa to win both the mixed doubles and women’s doubles titles at the World Doubles Championships in Glasgow.

Dipika Pallikal’s illustrious career

30 year old Dipika Pallikal gained national prominence after she powered her way to three WISPA titles in 2011, and broke into the top 10 the following year.

Her career is peppered with many firsts- first Indian squash player of either gender to reach the finals of a ‘Silver’ event and the first to reach the semi finals of a ‘Gold’ event.

She, along with Joshna Chinappa, won the Squash Women’s Doubles Gold Medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2014, and has been a part of the gold medal winning team at the South Asian Games in 2016, the silver medal winning team at the Asian Team Championships in 2016 and the silver medal winning team at the Asian Games in 2014.

Dipika Pallikal was the first female squash player to win the Arjuna Award in 2012, and had the Padma Shree conferred on her in 2014.

Shame on you, Zee News for your misogyny

Anybody who follows sports in the country knows Dipika Pallikal, and how she has literally redefined squash in the country. Dinesh Karthik, on the other hand, though a decent cricketer, has lived in the shadow of his more illustrious teammates, and never achieved the kind of heights she did.

Yet, Zee News thought that the most appropriate way to headline an article about her success was by mentioning her cricketer husband.

While one can certainly argue that cricket is almost a religion in India, and even cricketers who are merely a part of IPL squads have greater brand recall than international level sportsmen in other sports, that is not sufficient reason to describe a person as someone’s wife, and certainly not in the headlines, which should celebrate her achievement, not his name.

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When this was called out on social media, the responses ranged from the blatantly misogynistic. From “People don’t want to know what Dipika does. She is just Karthik’s wife”, to the absolutely inaccurate, “Physical differences between men and women makes it that way. Nobody likes a less physically dominated event”.

There was even a person who made a blatantly arrogant statement like “Women should stick to beauty contests”, despite the fact that women’s sport is as physically demanding as men’s sport, and that female sportspersons need to work as hard as their male counterparts to compete at the international level.

While most of the people defending the headline are seemingly unaware of the existence of any sport other cricket, it is also a case of blatant male arrogance which decides that women need to be defined in terms of a relationship. Zee News used Dinesh Karthik’s name in the headline because in India, a woman’s identity is defined in terms of being a daughter, a wife or a mother.

Happens EVERY time!

There was the time when an Indian publication referred to the economist Esther Duflo as Abhijeet Banerjee’s wife, conveniently ignoring the fact that Banerjee and Duflo shared the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2019. While Banerjee is certainly more senior than Duflo, her identity is and should be independent of that of her husband.

Tennis player Sania Mirza brought laurels for India long before her marriage to a Pakistani cricketer, but his name is always mentioned in any article about her- the reverse is almost never the case.

This also manifests itself in small acts of internalised misogyny, in daily life.

When I speak to a school teacher, I introduce myself as the mother of their student. My husband, on the other hand, first introduces himself by name, and then mentions the name of the child. I used to think it was quite ridiculous, because the teacher doesn’t care who we are, but is concerned only about the student whose parent we are, but now I wonder if by not introducing myself by name, I am subconsciously negating my identity.

In a society which seeks to reduce women to relationships, maybe each of us should insist on maintaining our own individuality in every setting.

There is hope in the handful of men who call out this misogyny

On the issue of Dipika Pallikal being headlined as Dinesh Karthik’s husband, however, there is hope. Noted cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle called it out on social media and said that the headline was demeaning to a campion like Dipika Pallikal.

Though a number of people accused him of being a ‘pseudo feminist’, the post was immediately retweeted by Dinesh Karthik.

More importantly, though it took them a few hours to do so, Zee News did edit the headline to ensure that the spotlight remained on Dipika Pallikal and her amazing success in winning two gold medals at the Doubles Championships.

We can only hope that in future media houses are more careful in how they refer to women who, despite being married to successful men, are also successful in their own right.

Author’s note: Screenshots here are of the original headlines, since they were subsequently changed.

Editor’s note: For the record, this win is even more significant given that Dipika Pallikal has given birth to twins very recently, in October 2021. 

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About the Author

Natasha Ramarathnam

Natasha works in the development sector, where most of her experience has been in Education and Livelihoods. She is passionate about working towards gender equity, sustainability and positive climate action. And avid reader and occasional read more...

25 Posts | 42,066 Views

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