As the winter sun climbs over a farm of mustard, pale orange bleeding into bright yellow, a line of 36 girls all dressed the same – T-shirts, sweatpants, crew cuts – emerges in a field open, rubbing sleep from their eyes. Under a tin shed, they are seated on their haunches, bent over stone mortars. For the next 20 minutes, they mash the raw almonds into a fine paste, straining a bottle of nut milk. They will need it to regain strength.
Established in 2017, Yudhveer Akhada is a residential wrestling academy for girls, run by a family of competitive female wrestlers in Sonipat, a semi-urban industrial city in Haryana, a northern Indian province bordering Delhi. Currently, it hosts 45 interns who, upon arrival, are typically between the ages of 10 and 15 and are expected to stay until their 20s, immersing themselves in the burgeoning community of struggling girls. Every student who enters the academy has the same goal: to win an Olympic medal for India.
“In India, we are surrounded by stories of violence against women,” said Prarthna Singh, the photographer of this story. Yet the country has also seen increasing participation in women’s sports, such as wrestling. “Within these patriarchal constructions, we have these academies where young women carve out a place for themselves as sportswomen. It’s inspiring to see them put in the dedication and rigor needed to become one.
After the warm-up, their training varies. Cardio days can mean cross-country running or stair climbing. On sports days, they play handball or basketball. The muscle-building days are the most demanding of all: the girls have to drag wooden blocks across the field or pull themselves up several meters of gnarled ropes.
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