One of India’s top women wrestlers, 21-year-old Neetu, has shared her story about escaping two illegal, and unwanted, child marriages that left her a mother of two before she reached the age of 15. Neelu, who won a bronze medal at India’s National Games in 2015, told BBC News that wrestling gave her the chance to start her life anew.
“I am 21, but my story starts when I was 12. I was illegally married to a mentally-ill 40-year-old man,” Neelu told the BBC. “The marriage lasted only two months. But I was married again and gave birth to twin boys at 14. I took to sports after my boys were born.”
Her new commitment to wrestling, however, came at a cost. Neelu says that she is only able to see her sons and family rarely, but that the sacrifice is worth it because “wrestling is my life.”
“People in my village said a mother of two won’t be able to become a wrestler,” she recalled. “They also said that a person from low-caste Dalit community shouldn’t have such dreams. I also know hunger very well. I didn’t have enough to eat when I started training. I would often see other girls have juices and cheese while I only survived on water. But I knew I had to be mentally strong because that’s everything.”
But after her efforts translated to a medal at the National Games in 2015, Neelu said, her detractors abruptly had a change of heart.
“People garlanded and celebrated me,” she said. “The people who didn’t believe in me earlier suddenly wanted me to train their daughters.”
Neelu says that her current goal is to win a medal at the Olympics. And this time, nobody is counting her out.
Watch BBC News’ interview with Neelu below.