Neetu Sarkar was forced into marriage when she was just 13 and was a mother of two by the following year. However, that did not stop her from pursuing her dream of becoming a wrestler and she is now competing at the international level.
Neetu was forcibly married to a 43-year-old mentally challenged man when she was just 13. Fearing for her life, Neetu ran away in three days. Furious at her, Neetu's family soon forced her into marriage with another man.
Within a year, at the age of 14, she was a mother to twin sons. Her second husband, Sanjay, was unemployed and they had to rely on his mother's pension for their day-to-day needs. To make ends meet, Neetu started working as a construction labourer and did a series of odd jobs.
All through this, she was fascinated with wrestling. But in her village (Bhiwani, Haryana), which had a poor sex ratio, the gender roles were rigid. In an interview with Hindustan Times, she said,
“I really wanted to wrestle... I became a mother at 14 and the family’s financial condition didn’t allow me to think about sport for the next two-three years.”
Neetu's husband, however, believed in her passion. For him, it was not about fame, winning medals, or earning money but about respecting her passion. With his support, she started working towards becoming a wrestler.
Every morning at three, Neetu was up and, quite literally, running 10 km so that she could lose weight and start training to become a wrestler. Recalling those days, to Sportskeeda she said,
“I had to wake up that early because if I came any later, after five or six, the village members and my family would be awake by the time I came back.”
Dedicated and hard-working, she soon brought her weight under control and started training at the National Stadium in Rohtak, which is one and a half hours from her village. Her financial condition was still poor, so she pretended to be a student to avoid having to pay the bus fare to the stadium.
The efforts paid off. By 2013, Neetu had already established herself as the topmost junior in the 51-kg category. In the Senior National Championship that took place in 2014, she won bronze in the 53-kg category, having her first taste of success.
The next year, she won bronze at the National Games and represented India at the World Championship. She achieved all this in a span of three years despite the social and economic constraints she had to face. The people in her village who were against her now look up to her as a hero and some of them even want her to help their daughters follow in her path.