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Instead of arresting, treat sex workers as victims


Saturday, August 31, 2019

Image Credit : About India

The Calcutta High Court in Manoj Shaw @ Manoj Kumar Shaw vs. The State of West Bengal (C. R. M. 5927 of 2019) has directed that exploited sex workers should not be treated as accused for offences under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956. Sex workers should be treated as victims of crime and extended all remedial measures, the court said. Sex work is legal in India although soliciting, brothels and working as a pimp are against the law. India needs a more humane law on prostitution. No one takes up the world's oldest profession voluntarily.

What has the Calcutta High Court ruled?

In a significant order, the Calcutta High Court has directed that a sex worker exploited for commercial sex should not be charged as accused for offences under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 until and unless cogent materials come on record that she was also involved as a co-conspirator in the crime.
Further, the Court also directed that investigating officers who are involved in investigating offences under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 and/or other related offences under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) shall not arrest any sex worker in the course of the investigation. Instead, they should treat the sex workers as victims of crime and extend to them all remedial measures available under the law including witness protection programs, grant of interim compensation and/or other rehabilitative measures and protective custody.

The directions were passed by a two judge bench in an anticipatory bail plea by the owner of a ‘health spa’ wherein women including a minor were sexually exploited for prostitution. When the matter had come up initially before the Chief Judge, City Sessions Court, Calcutta, an adjournment was granted after the Public Prosecutor made a request to that effect on the ground of issuing notice under Section 41A of the Code of Criminal Procedure to the Petitioner.

The Court went on to note that the Investigating Officer in the instant case had sought it fit to arrest the vulnerable witnesses namely, the sex workers who were forced to carry on prostitution under the guise of a health spa. However, an unusually lenient approach was adopted towards the owner of the said health spa i.e. the petitioner.
That apart, one of the victims appeared to be a minor as evidenced by her date of birth. Forcing a minor to prostitution attracts graver penalty punishable above seven years under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 which completely rules out the possibility of invocation of Section 41A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Bench noted.

The Court went on to reprimand the Police officer, Public Prosecutor and the Sessions Court Judge for their indifferent and lacklustre manner in which the investigation and case were dealt with. “The instant case is one of the most glaring examples of misuse of police power in this regard. While the Investigating Officer sought it fit to arrest the vulnerable witnesses namely, the sex workers who were forced to carry on prostitution under the guise of health spa, he resorted to an unusually lenient approach towards the owner of the said health spa i.e. the petitioner herein who appears to be the kinpin of the organised crime racket and issued notice under section 41A Cr.P.C. against him.”

It reaffirmed that in offences involving exploitation of women under Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 the sex workers who are exploited by brothel owners and others are not accused persons but the victims of crime. It was, thus, a sad reflection on the quality of investigation conducted in the present case by a specialised agency namely, Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU). Its officers wholly ignored the wholesome object of the law and unlawfully proceeded to arrest of the victims of sexual exploitation.

“Having gone through the case diary in the instant case, we are aghast at the harassing nature of investigation conducted by the police officers”, the court said.

Why was this case not surprising?

Prostitution per se is legal in India but it is caught in a web of laws that makes sex workers vulnerable to police action in red-light districts, where they ply their trade on streets or in dingy brothels.

“Whenever there is a raid on a brothel, since voluntary sex work is not illegal and only running the brothel is unlawful, the sex workers should not be arrested or penalised or harassed or victimised,” a Supreme Court appointed panel, which was set up to recommend measures to ensure better work conditions for prostitutes and protect their rights, said in 2016.

The panel recommended deleting the offence of “soliciting” under section 8 of the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA), 1956, saying the law is highly misused by enforcement agencies‘Soliciting’ or ‘seducing’ for the purpose of prostitution is punishable with six months in jail and a fine of Rs 500. Police are often accused of crossing the limit in their efforts to enforce anti-trafficking laws, clamping down on prostitutes and clients having a liaison conducted in private with consent between the two.

The majority of India’s estimated three million prostitutes are forced into the trade by crushing poverty. They are, to be put it crudely, soliciting and seducing because the state forgot to provide them either basic education or any other form of employment. The panel proposed an elaborate mechanism, including rehabilitation and providing alternative livelihood to prevent re-trafficking of former prostitutes.
Observing that police view sex workers “differently from others”, it says these women are lawfully entitled to equal protection. “When a sex worker makes a complaint of criminal/ sexual/ any other type of offence, police must take it seriously and act in accordance with law,” it recommended.

The panel suggested amendment to the law that says any person above 18 living on the earnings of prostitution faces imprisonment of up to 10 years. No action should be taken against a prostitute’s parent, partner or children living on her earnings, unless it is proved that they forced her into the trade, the panel wrote in its report.

To stop victimisation of trafficked women, the panel recommended sending sex workers caught plying their trade near a public place to a correctional home, instead of putting them in jail. The duration of the stay should be reduced from five years to one. Prostitution in a public place is illegal.
Many brothels have rebranded themselves as rejuvenation spas with special services and happy endings, but prostitutes have remained prostitutes. “Oh, you should see who all visit us on Sundays,” responded one spa owner of Bengaluru when asked if he’s not scared of police (though, legally, spas are legal but brothels are not.)

When do sex workers get legally harassed?

Sex work in India is often confused with trafficking for sexual exploitation.

The principal legislation dealing with trafficking is the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, (ITPA) supported by Section 370–373 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).However it is this very framework of ITPA and the IPC that criminalizes practices around sex work.

Sex workers are directly impacted by laws relating to soliciting and doing sex work in public places which are offences under the ITPA. Public places include educational institutions, places of religious worship, hostels, hospitals and any notified area. The term public place is read so broadly that inevitably, sex workers get arrested and detained in rehabilitation homes under these provisions. Sex workers can be evicted from such premises and the premises can be sealed.

The ITPA also provides a framework for police and Non -Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to conduct raid and rescue operations. Magistrates are authorised to close brothels and expel persons from premises where sex work is being carried out, including their residence. Police can remove any person found on the premises where sex work is carried out, irrespective of their age and consent.

Violence against sex workers in India is linked to the perception that they are criminals and not law-abiding citizens. This has led to systematic violation of human rights of sex workers, such as the right to life, dignity, equality, equal protection and due processes under the law. Several factors put sex workers at risk of violence. Stigma attached to sex work exposes them to violence in personal spaces from family members as well as from intimate partners. Violence is used as a mechanism of asserting sexual control; it is normalized as punishment for having sex with other men.
There is little appreciation amongst police of the context and factors affecting sex workers lives, hence they ignore complaints related to family and partner violence; instead offering advice to women about stopping sex work and settling domestic matters 'amicably'. The law enforcement system is regarded by sex workers as the most repressive state agency. Police abuse sex workers, illegally detain, sexually assault and torture them in custody.

Sex workers report being arrested under ‘public nuisance’ or ‘obscene conduct’ provisions of the IPC. They are produced in court and released on the payment of fines. Most sex workers choose not to contest their arrest under these provisions since they find it easier to pay fines and be released. People in positions of authority routinely demand sexual favours from sex workers for speedy redress of grievances or accessing entitlements. They regularly verbally abuse sex workers using specific sexual innuendo and language.
Perhaps the most widespread human rights abuse emerges from the so-called rescue and rehabilitation interventions.

These interventions involve brothel raids by special police officers and NGO workers, where women are "rescued" and placed in rehabilitation facilities. Police raids, frequent in red light areas and under the pretext of rescuing minors, do not distinguish between minors and consenting adults.

Narratives of raid and rescue operations indicate the highly abusive and violent nature of these operations. Arbitrary police action during raids, with scant respect to rights of sex workers and those residing in the buildings deemed to be brothels is common. Recent research by SANGRAM found that non-sex workers who happened to be visiting their relatives in the buildings that were raided were stripped and bundled into vans.

Besides using torture such as putting chilli powder in the genitals, the police routinely humiliate and frighten the women picked up through verbal abuse and threat of violence by brandishing batons. In one instance, in complete violation of the rights of detainees, police reportedly made women clean up the police station. They are also forced to “accept their guilt”, even if the cases are fake.

Women who are picked up are usually sent to the so-called ‘rehabilitation home’ ( Sudhar Griha ) described inhuman conditions, sub-standard food and an extreme state of confinement, prohibited from meeting their families, and not even being allowed to stand near the window and being beaten up for doing so.
Condoms found on the premises of brothels are being used as evidence against sex workers.

Where does the dilemma come from?

The first priority, of course, should be ending forced prostitution, especially of childrenThe lapsed Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 had special provisions for investigation of trafficking cases, definitions for aggravated forms of trafficking, a rehabilitation fund, protective homes, and designated special courts. This meant that a body of sensitized special police officers would rescue trafficked victims and organize their rescue and rehabilitation with their (the survivors’) consent in ways that does not happen under the present ITPA regime. This also meant that adult women voluntarily practising sex work could claim a safer work environment and avoid molestation from the police.
The lapse of the TOP Bill implies that we are left again with no legal alternative but the ITPA and IPC sections 370 (trafficking of persons) and 370 A (exploitation of a trafficked person) to continue rescue activities for those sex workers in India who are either minors or have been trafficked into the trade, and hence, the feasibility of repeal is losing ground.

Image Credit: Apne Aap Women Worldwide

Apne Aap Women Worldwide
, a grassroots movement to end sex trafficking, says brokers pay as little as 4,000 rupees to the families of village girls who are then raped by customers. Raids of brothels by NGOs and police to rescue victims often fail because families later return the children to the same brokers. In other cases girls and young women are tricked with promises of marriage. Apne Aap claims that over a third of all sex workers are under the age of 18.

The organisation opposes legalization of prostitution, arguing that more demand for sex would lead to more trafficking. Apne Aap’s campaign, bizarrely titled “Cool Men Don’t Buy Sex”, was intended to reduce demand. If that looks unlikely to have much success, the prospects of legalisation appear slender, too. No politician is ready to champion the idea. The conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is unlikely to support it. Those selling sex will continue to live in the shadows.

Not everyone supports easing curbs on prostitution. It will only push up demand for sex workers and result in an increase in trafficking of women, said Supreme Court lawyer and social activist Ravi Kant of the NGO Shakti Vahini“Mafia and cartels will take over," he said. “There will be a huge demand for young girls and trafficking will increase." “When we talk about legalising prostitution in India, we talk about prostitution not as a criminal offense, but soliciting prostitution and prostitution in public as illegal. So, in effect, we are talking about giving legal status to brothel owners and pimps,” Ruchira Gupta, founder-president of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, says.

On the other hand, once prostitution becomes legal the harassment of sex workers by police would reduce tremendously; these prostitutes will exist in certain government defined areas and will have proper licenses to work. This would also bring the names of these workers in the government records and they will not be scared to approach hospitals and police officers. Proper health checks of the women would help reduced the transmission of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and the prostitutes will be able to strongly demand that their customers use contraceptives.

Sadly, in India, ITPA is the only legislation that deals with trafficking. It considers trafficking as prostitution. This is not in accordance with international policies and guidelines, including the Palermo Protocol of 2001, which India has signed. This is very unfortunate as Article 23 of the Indian Constitution prohibits ‘traffic in human beings and all similar forms of forced labour’.

Dr S Jana
Dr S Jana, principal of Sonagachi Research and Training Institute, Kolkata, feels that sex workers should be brought under the work schedule of the labour department. “This will benefit the women in this trade. Once the labour legislation is applicable and includes sex workers, it will ensure that the rights of these women are protected,” Jana explains. He is quick to point out that while trafficking should be made a criminal offence, prostitution in itself should be decriminalised.

“Women providing sex should be treated as workers. At present, these women can only go to the police or groups that are working in this field in case they want to file a complaint or take action in case they are being abused and forced into this trade. But if it is legalised, there will so many other agencies that they can go to for relief. It has been found that those who are in the unorganised sector are the ones who are most vulnerable to exploitation. Domestic workers and sex workers fall in this category are the ones who are taken advantage of. But if they come under an organised unit, their exploitation will stop,” Jana says.

Who do we forget in our intellectual discussions?

A typical brothel on GB Road, a sprawling red-light district in Delhi dating back to the Mughal era, contains multiple 4/6 feet cubicles with a bed each, covered by a dirty and bare mattress under which used condoms are stuffed. There are no windows. There’s a common room in which the sex workers, when they aren’t attending to a client, rest or play indoor games. Posters of Hindu gods and goddesses and framed verses from the Koran decorate the walls. Most women who live and work here are not sure what the law of the land is and what amending that law would mean to their doomed lives. The same is true for any other ‘red light area’ anywhere in India.

When Rashida Bibi was 16, she left her native Bangladesh and came to Kolkata, India, with the promise of a job as a nanny. It was a lie. In fact, she was a victim of sex trafficking. "After giving me shelter for a few days, the family told me that they couldn't keep me and that I had to start working as a prostitute," Bibi says. Tears well up in her eyes when she remembers that moment. Some 30 years later, Bibi is one of an estimated 11,000 sex workers in Sonagachi, a notorious red-light district in Kolkata.
“I always knew that this would be my life,” says Suchitra, sitting in her wardrobe-sized room and wearing a low-cut green top and jeans, her hair pulled back in a tight bun. “I can never forget what I’ve done but it is the only way for my family to earn a living.” She was sent to prostitution at the age of 14 by her mother, who was also a prostitute. Many of the girls who are raised as prostitutes are injected with the hormone oxytocin to make their breasts grow faster.

Then there is the permanent risk of contracting an STD. Female and transgender sex workers and men who have sex with men are considered high-risk groups in determining HIV/AIDS prevalence. “Globally, sex workers are 13 times more at risk of contracting HIV, when compared to the general population, because they are economically vulnerable, unable to negotiate consistent condom use, and experience violence, criminalisation and marginalisation,” said a 2018 study by UNAIDS.

Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have a high prevalence of HIV among sex workers. Maharashtra has 7% HIV prevalence rate, Karnataka has 6%, and Tamil Nadu has 1%. Around 31% sex workers living in these states remain financially insecure, making them vulnerable to disease. Half of Maharashtra’s sex workers depend only on sex work for survival, and do not have insurance. In Tamil Nadu, two-fifths and in Karnataka a fifth of sex workers face similar issues. This makes sex workers vulnerable to clients who insist on unprotected sex.

Don’t they want to do something ‘more dignified’? Who wouldn’t want to leave a small room with no window where random men walk in and out to do whatever they want? But the bigger question is, where do they go from there? “I am here of my own will. Even if I leave this place where will I go? The society will always label me as a prostitute. I am scared wherever I will be employed, the men will rape me. Even if I marry a prince tomorrow and wear expensive saris (dresses) and sit in a big car, people will still think I am a prostitute. I cannot change that. I wanted to become a nurse and take care of people. I have a secret lover and he used to be one of my regular customers. He is a taxi driver and we are planning to marry. I will make sure my daughter is never born into a brothel, is educated and lives her dream”, said a prostitute from Sonagachi who hasn’t given up on hope but also knows the reality.

How must India proceed on this issue?

Stop mixing sex work and trafficking in law and policy

  1. Ensure that anti-trafficking laws are not used to abuse the human rights of people in sex work.
  2. Trafficking of Adult Persons and Trafficking of Children should be dealt with under two separate laws to ensure that consenting adults are not infantilised and children are given justice.
  3. Strengthen efforts of community-based organisations and collectives of sex workers to fight trafficking in their communities.

Fully decriminalise sex work and related activities

  1. Repeal laws that prohibit consenting adults in sex work, such as laws against "immoral" earnings, "living off the earnings" of prostitution and brothel-keeping.
  2. Complementary legal measures must be taken to ensure safe working conditions for sex workers.
  3. Ensure that existing civil and administrative offences such as “loitering without purpose”, “public nuisance”, and “public morality” are not used to penalise sex workers and administrative laws such as “move on” powers are not used to harass sex workers.

Shut down compulsory detention or rehabilitation centres for people in sex work.

  1. Provide sex workers with evidence-based, voluntary, community empowerment services.
  2. Develop mechanisms to recognise and act against violence faced by sex workers, strengthen accountability of law enforcement
  3. Guard against arbitrary arrest and detention of sex workers, and investigate complaints of harassment, extortion and abuse by law enforcement personnel.
  4. Maintain confidentiality and respect privacy of sex workers approaching law enforcement agencies and judiciary for redress in cases of sexual assault, exploitation and violence.
  5. Sensitivity to issues faced by sex workers should be made a part of training for police personnel, public prosecutors and the judiciary in partnership with community organisations of sex workers.

Strengthen sex workers’ access to justice

  1. Strengthen National Human Rights Instruments (NHRI’s) and increase their accountability to respond to complaints or initiate suo moto action reports of violence and rights violations by state and non-state actors against sex workers.
  2. Ensure free legal aid services are available in rural areas for sex workers and offered by lawyers who have been trained in issues faced by sex workers.
  3. Prohibit mandatory HIV and STI testing of sex workers following arrest.
  4. Ensure implementation of the Supreme Court recommendations to issue identity documents and ration cards to sex workers at the national, state, district and subdistrict levels.

Ensure participation in policy making

  1. Ensure the empowerment, active participation and leadership of sex work networks, federations and collectives in designing policies and processes for accessing social entitlements.
  2. Ensure participation of sex work organisations in drafting/ amending relevant laws, policies and programs and in their implementation.

Pusarla Venkata Sindhu: The Rising Star

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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Bronze in 2013, Bronze in 2014, Silver in 2017, Silver in 2018 and now, Gold in 2019. PV Sindhu, whose rise marked the arrival of India as a major force in Badminton, is now the first Indian to win a gold in World Championships. An unstoppable Sindhu put up a flawless performance to crush Japan's Nozomi Okuhara 21-7, 21-7. Sai Praneeth became the first Indian men's singles player to win a World medal in 36 years.

What is the crowning glory for PV Sindhu?
PV Sindhu pulled off a brilliant 21-7, 21-7 victory against Nozomi Okuhara to clinch the BWF World Championship title in Basel. Sindhu became the first Indian shuttler ever to win a World Championships gold and also the second player ever to win five World Championship medals.
Two years after being robbed off the gold by Okuhara in an epic 110-minute final at Glasgow that went down as one of the greatest battles in badminton history, Sindhu took just 38 minutes to exorcise the ghost of that heart-wrenching loss with a completely dominating win over the same opponent.

It was Sindhu's fifth World Championships medal - joint most for a woman singles player with former Olympics and world champion Zhang Ning of China - to go with the two successive silvers (2017, 2018) and a couple of bronze medals (2013, 2014). Sindhu has also won an Olympic silver in 2016 Rio Games, a silver at Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, an Asian Games silver at Jakarta and the BWF World Tour Finals last year.

Prakash Padukone became the first Indian to win a medal in World Championships

She is the fourth Indian to win a World medal. Prakash Padukone became the first Indian to win a medal in World Championships with a men’s singles bronze in the 1983 edition while Saina Nehwal bagged a silver and a bronze in 2015 and 2017 respectively in women’s singles. The third Indian to win the medal is Sai Praneeth who created history by becoming the first men's singles player since Prakash Padukone in 1983 to win a medal at the World Championships.

“Last time, I lost in the final, before that also I lost in the final, so it is a very important win for me. I want to thank the crowd for supporting me. I won it for my country and I am very proud being an Indian, A big thanks to my coach Kim and Gopi sir and my supporting staff and I dedicate this win to my mom, it’s her birthday today,”  she added.

Why is this victory worth the wait?

They say you never win a silver – you always lose a gold. Sindhu lost gold twice in the past two years. While her talent was never in doubt, her ability to bring out her best in the final was up for some debate.

While she lost to Okuhara in the 2017 edition, Olympic champion Carolina Marin of Spain stopped her in the summit clash in 2018 after she had beaten Okuhara in the semi-finals. Earlier, in an 83-minute match, she was defeated by Marin in a gruelling three-setter, by 21–19, 12–21, 15–21, in the 2016 Olympics final. Even in defeat, she forged history by becoming the first female individual to bag an Olympic Silver medal representing India. With too much silver in her wardrobe, it is understandable that she got bored of the metal that is at best second-best.

Sindhu, who was seeded fifth, came into the prestigious event this year with a runner-up finish at the Indonesia Open last month and had been working on her fitness and defence in her pursuit to outlast her opponents. They key statistic was that she yet again won a silver. Sindhu's quest for her maiden title of 2019 ended in disappointment as she went down 15-21, 16-21 to Japanese 4th seed Akane Yamaguchi in Jakarta on July 21.

Sindhu was left to lament a sub-par display in the final against her Japanese opponent after clinching her silver medal. "I could have continued from there but gave her the lead at that point and then she finished it off. If I had won the first game, maybe it would have been a bit different. Second game I gave her a huge lead and had to cover up." She would not repeat the same mistake in the World final.

She also spoke about the need to be alert throughout the game, against any of the top 10 ranked opponents. "It's very different now. Some of the players are around but a new lot of players have also come up, there are the new Chinese players. Then and now, the game has changed a lot. The matches are going on really long, there is a need to be very much patient. No one can take it easy against lower-ranked players, because the top 10 players are at the same level now. Anyone can beat anyone on their day," she said.

"I have worked on mental as well as physical fitness. Matches have been really long nowadays. Everything is like a chain where you need to touch up on everything. It's not just that you do physical and leave the skill part. I think I have been working out on skill a lot more," she said in another interview on July 4. "Because, now the game has changed a lot. A lot of people have been working out on their skills and physical. I think it is very important to keep yourself fit as well as in your skill work, you need to be very much perfect as well. So, I have been working on that," she said when asked if she worked on something new.

"Every time, we need to change. Because, it is not the same every time. Not only you, your opponents change their game," she said. "Now, there are video cameras, there are videos, analysing and doing everything. Even though we go with one strategy, when you go on to court, every point can be comparatively different. That's what I feel," she added. Sindhu said her training with new coaches, who have come a few of months ago, has been good. She is currently training with Korea’s Kim Ji Hyun“The players can learn new techniques from every coach as each one has different thinking and experience”, she said.

If there is one thing Sindhu needed to work on, coming into the final, it was to finish off a game when in a commanding position. Sindhu had been guilty on many occasions of allowing her opponents back into the match after taking a sizeable lead in games. That said, she has been playing at the cutting edge of badminton for the last four years. With a bit of luck she could have won the 2017 final. Such has been Sindhu’s performance that ‘could have’ was not acceptable anymore.
Sometimes you got to be tired of not being No. 1. Before 2019, Sindhu had won a medal at four of the five previous Worlds she had played, and the player who had defeated her in each of those four editions had gone on to win the tournament. Sindhu entered the final tired of being called a double-silver medalist.

Note: The world championships are held annually, except in Olympic years. It wasn’t held in 2016.

When was the stage set for the final?

Sindhu reached the final in devastating form – as if there was no time to lose before and during the final. World No 3 and All England Champion Chen Yu Fei of China was outclassed 21-7, 21-14 in a 40-minute semifinal. It was all happening a bit too fast for Yufei. In her straight games defeat, the Chinese was skittled by Sindhu whose court coverage has been impressive throughout this tournament. It was that kind of a match, where the rallies bore testament to the work that Sindhu has put in her speed.

Pressured by the prospect of regular meetings on the tour against the likes of Akane Yamaguchi and Nozomi Okuhara, both of whom hannelize in stretching the rallies and tiring their opponents, it’s evident that Sindhu has, over the past couple of years, ramped up her defensive game. Some detractors have continued to term her movement on the court as ‘not fluid’ and perhaps rightly so as her tall frame can prove to be a disadvantage when subjected to bends and turns at the net while returning drop shots.

Nevertheless, her movement has proved fairly sufficient in keeping up the play until she finds the space she needs to pull out her lethal smashes. On her way to the World Championships final, Sindhu showed why she is arguably now a 360 degree player, with hardly any weaknesses out there to be exploited, the improved defensive game supplementing her naturally attacking play.

Moreover, she seems to have aced the formula of dictating the course of play against her opponents, fishing out shots to her liking which would allow her to thrash her opponent. The smashes which fetch her a bucket-load of points are the end result. But it’s the way she orchestrates the rallies which make up the means to that end. In her pre-quarter-final match against the USA’s Beiwen Zhang, Sindhu stayed put at the centre while Zhang was made to cover all corners and repeat, as in a practice drill.

Sindhu entered the final having only dropped a game once in the tournament against the former World No 1 Tai Tzu Ying in the quarter-finals. Pai Yu Po, Beiwen Zhang and even Chen Yufei couldn’t make the lanky Indian sweat. On the other side, Okuhara did not drop a game against former World No 2 Sung Ji Hyun and China’s He Bingjiao. Ratchanok Intanon stretched her all the way in an 80-minute semi-final encounter. She entered the final more tired than Sindhu. All Sindhu needed to do was to not panic in the final.

Where did Sindhu excel in the final?

She started well, remained steady and never panicked. After Okuhara opened the match with the first point, Sindhu went on to dominate the game after taking eight straight points to make it 8-1. From there, with a variation of backhands and forehands, Sindhu made her opponent work hard until she took a massive lead of 14-2.

The fifth seeded Indian, who came into the match with an 8-7 head-to-head lead over third seeded Okuhara, was simply unstoppable as she dished out an attacking game right from the start to race to an 11-2 lead. The Indian targeted the deep corners and unleashed her big smashes to gather points at will.Okuhara tried to step up the pace but an alert Sindhu was up to the task. Sindhu used her height to produce those attacking clears which Okuhara could not negotiate.

At 16-2, Sindhu committed a couple of unforced errors before again taking control of the match. Sindhu eventually grabbed 13 game points when Okuhara went long and she sealed the first game with a body blow which her rival sent out. Using her height and energy, she bagged the first game by 21-7.

In the second game of the match, she channelized her momentum of the first game, and got two quick points. Okuhara had no answer to Sindhu’s razor sharp returns. The Indian made the Japanese run to the deep corners with her acute angled returns and then swiftly followed them at the net to make life difficult for her opponent. Okuhara replied in kind and tried to set off a comeback, but her unforced errors gave Sindhu another massive 11-4 lead. From there, the Indian made a couple of errors but she kept the tide with her with a powerful smash towards the end.
Sindhu grabbed the match point when Okuhara went long again and sealed the title when another superb return before throwing her hands in the air in celebration. She had got the elusive gold. It’s easy to call her ‘third-time lucky’ but luck really had no role in the final. Her hard work took luck out of the equation.

Who else made some history for India?
B Sai Praneeth becomes first Indian male to win BWF World Championships medal in 36 years
Just a week after being chosen for the prestigious Arjuna AwardB Sai Praneeth on August 24 breezed past Christie 24-22, 21-14 in 51 minutes to progress to the semi-finals, assuring himself of a bronze medal. He became the first men’s singles player after Prakash Padukone in 1983 to win a World Championships medal.

Praneeth lost 21-13, 21-8 to World No. 1 Kento Momota in the semifinals providing only flickers of possibilities of how intact India’s men’s brigade can emerge from being thrown into a foundry with the world’s very best. Momota went on to easily win the final for second year in a row. He outclassed 22-year-old Dane Anders Antonsen, who had stunned Olympic champion Chen Long in the quarter-finals, 21-9 21-3 in another one-sided match.

This bronze is big for Praneeth. It is not like he had been a complete dud on the international circuit. He upset then world No 2 Lee Chong Wei at the 2016 All England Open, won the 2017 Singapore Open Superseries title and has been in and around the top-20 for the past three-four years. But his lack of consistency and a knack of losing matches from seemingly comfortable positions has been his bane in the past.

It helped that the world No 19 was coming from a good run at the Japan Open Super 750 and Thailand Open Super 500 tournaments, where he reached the semis and quarters respectively. “I think the five week training before the three tournaments in Asia helped me a lot in terms of improving my fitness and the results in Japan and Thailand gave me a lot of confidence. In Basel, the court conditions were to my liking and that draw was also good and that whole confidence allowed me to play well so far,” he told after beating Christie in the quarter-finals to assure himself of a medal.
But, to be able to deliver at Tokyo 2020, Praneeth has his task cut out

A good follow-up shot to India’s first men’s singles medal in 36 years would be getting into serious contention at the Olympics. Otherwise, Sindhu-Saina will headline yet another Olympics. For those are the high standards the Indian women have set: win it or leave it.

Momota in the semi-final highligthed the deficiencies of Praneeth in the 42-minute semifinal. “I suddenly lost 3 points with small mistakes and with that the flow,” he later said. “Compared to last time I was playing the strokes, pushing the pace but not getting points. So I was mentally getting tired and I didn’t know what to do after 3-4 strokes,”he admitted.

Arvind Bhatt

Former international Player Arvind Bhat believes it’s not just mental fitness. The men need to be physically fitter too. Bhat reckons Sai Praneeth, HS Prannoy and Kidambi Srikanth all have the necessary games, but need a bedrock of fitness, which is non-negotiable. “Sai has to lose weight. He’s at least 4-5 kg heavy to be competitive consistently at the top medal level. Badminton needs you to be underweight, most top players look malnourished, but all of our men’s singles guys need to get the lean muscle mass up. And this will need sacrifices – doing things they completely hate, like running,” he says

Bhat gives the example of Chinese Lin Dan in 2012 when going for his second Olympic title. “Apparently thrice a week he undertook long runs in hot weather on a scalding beach, just to train for situations that could be completely different. He risked illness and even missing out on Olympics. But sacrifices need to be made, even if it means cordoning players off for a year,” he explained. “Everyone will train 3 sessions like a donkey. An Olympic medal needs a sacrifice above that.”
Losing to Kento Momota might just ignite that flame. Praneeth is in good company to keep the flame alive. He said Sindhu’s win inspires him and they both usually train together.

How does India’s future in badminton look?

It looks very Bright. The ever-rising popularity of badminton in India and consistent results of Indian shuttlers on the global stage have propelled a staggering 2518 entries from 1415 players at the Yonex-Sunrise All India Sub Junior (U-15 & U-17) Ranking Badminton Tournament 2019 in July. Domestic tournaments have been seeing a rapid rise in the number of entries of late like the All India Sub-junior ranking event in Hyderabad last year which received 2841 entries from 1596 players while a Nagpur tournament had 2528 entries from 1405 players.

Pullela Gopichand

The youngsters are lining up – the future appears shiny. But there is a huge problem to be addressed. For years now, two names have dominated headlines in Indian badminton. Mentored by former All England champion Pullela GopichandSaina Nehwal pioneered India’s rise in international badminton around a decade back and was joined at the top by PV Sindhu few years later.

The unprecedented success of Sindhu and Nehwal made India a force to reckon with at the highest levels of the game. The two women inspired more success too, fostering a competitive culture that made many of their male contemporaries — like the 2014 Commonwealth Games champion Parupalli Kashyap (who is also Nehwal’s husband), and Kidambi Srikanth, who was briefly the world No 1 last year — touch new milestones.

While Nehwal and Sindhu continue to maintain their status as top-10 players in women’s singles, the next best Indians in the women’s line up are Mughda Agrey and Rituparna Das at No 62 and 64 respectively, with five more in the 80s and 90s. Compare this to men’s singles, where as many as seven Indians are in the top-50 (Srikanth in top 10). In addition, there is junior world No 2 Lakshya Sen, who is already nearing the top-50 in seniors. There is a second line of players when it comes to the men, moving through the ranks.

A comparison that cuts even closer home is with Denmark. The only non-Asian powerhouse remaining in the sport has plenty of men’s singles players in the top 25, but has seen a dramatic drop in women’s singles since their three-time All England winner Tine Baun retired in 2013. Their top doubles pairs in all three categories, who regularly won medals at the Olympics or World Championships, have also already retired or are in the twilight of their careers. Chief national coach Gopichand didn’t mince words when asked about the gap. “We haven’t had a program for the younger group. We have not given any of the younger players exposure,” he says. “The transition between junior to senior, we haven’t really done anything for them.”

Rituparna Das

Though some rising players like Rituparna Das and G Ruthvika Shivani began well, they have not been able to raise their games beyond winning some lower tier Badminton World Federation (BWF) tournaments. Both the shuttlers are 22. By this age Nehwal had already won the world junior championship, a Commonwealth Games gold and multiple Superseries tournaments. She also claimed the Olympic bronze at 23. Sindhu had already claimed an Olympic silver and three World Championship medals among several other titles on the BWF World Tour at the same age.

U Vimal Kumar, former national coach and now chief coach at the Prakash Padukone Academy, says that one of the main reasons for the lack of a depth of talent is the lack of quality academies in India. In a country this vast, there are only two truly world class centres — Gopichand’s academy in Hyderabad and Padukone’s in Bengaluru“Everybody has been coming to the south but we need more good centres, especially in the north, I have been saying this for 10 years,” Kumar says. “Even in the east or northeast, we need a good backup (of players) from these regions.”
The highest test of the mettle of India’s shuttlers will happen next year in Tokyo. Sindhu will go as a favorite to upgrade the color of her Olympic medal, but the men will be fired up too
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