The legacy of the Phogat family in the world of wrestling in India has been unparalleled. In a number of star wrestlers in Babita Phogat, Geeta Kumari, Vinesh Phogat, Priyanka Phogat and Ritu Phogat, the Phogat sisters are a force to reckon with in the arena of international sports of present times.
Even Bollywood has brought to life the tremendous success of the Phogat sisters in a 2016 film titled Dangal. The Aamir Khan starrer is a chronicle of the life and times of Babita and Geeta, helmed by their father Mahavir Singh Phogat.
However, though Mahavir Phogat is very much the man behind the phenomenal rise of the Phogat sisters as wrestlers as well as youth icons, there remains another Phogat name that remains mired in oblivion. Mahavir Phogat’s younger brother and the father of 2018 Asian Games Gold Medalist & wrestler Vinesh Phogat is Rajpal Phogat who was as instrumental in scripting the success story of these young female wrestlers from India.
Rajpal Phogat is the younger brother of the more illustrious Mahavir Singh Phogat who is a Dronacharya awardee wrestler. Rajpal Phogat was murdered due to a family dispute over land when his daughter Vinesh was just eight years old. His wife Premlata too was diagnosed with cancer after the death of her husband and thereafter began a period of trouble and turbulence for the family of Rajpal Phogat. Phogat’s wife Premlata and their three children, daughters Vinesh and Priyanka and son Harvinder had to undergo hard times but the unwavering support of Rajpal’s elder brother Mahavir Singh Phogat gave them the courage to move on ahead in life.
Like his brother, Rajpal Phogat too had been determined to make his daughters ace the sport and when the entire family including their father Man Singh who had himself been an accomplished wrestler objected to the daughters being into a sport that had been dominated by men, it was Rajpal Phogat who supported Mahavir and his wish to make the girls successful wrestlers.
After the death of Rajpal Phogat, his elder brother Mahavir left no stone unturned to mould the Phogat sisters into professionals. The younger Phogat brother had always been supportive of his daughters being into wrestling. In fact, when in school Vinesh used to beat up boys who were rude to her, Rajpal Phogat would never say anything to her, rather he would feel proud that his girls were no less than boys.
Rajpal Phogat’s wife Premlata also wasn’t spared the wrath of her husband when she sought help from her daughters for household chores. He instead asked Premlata to seek the help of their son Harvinder while letting his daughters focus on their wrestling.
Unfortunately for Rajpal Phogat, his dream of witnessing his daughters reach the pinnacle of glory wasn’t a reality he could witness. For even though Vinesh created history by becoming the first female wrestler from India to clinch a gold in the Asian Games this year, her father wasn’t with her to share this rare moment of happiness.
Vinesh on her part,however, showed tremendous resilience and courage to fulfil the younger Phogat brother’s dream. Undeterred by her father’s death and not allowing even a grave disease like cancer afflicting her mother to distract her from her life pursuit, this golden girl let her dreams take off under the able tutelage of her uncle Mahavir Singh Phogat. Vinesh’s sister Priyanka Phogat is also a successful wrestler and has won a silver medal at the Asian Championships.
Rajpal Phogat’s wife Premlata too should be lauded as a woman of strength and spirit. In order that the training schedule of her children continue unabated, the brave woman used to travel alone from their village Balali to Rohtak for chemotherapy. Indeed, as the better half of the undeterred man Rajpal Phogat, the Phogat lady is as resilient a woman as any of the Phogats.
Here’s another man, long gone and forgotten but with a legacy that will live on for eternity.
Also read about women wrestlers from India