Sudama standing in a field of yellow flowers
Sudama standing in a field of yellow flowers

Photo © Arko Datto

Sudama

“Before, we weren’t considered important”

Sudama, a 17-year-old woman from Madhya Pradesh state in India, is an amazing character. Laughter comes easily to her, and she loves to joke around with her family and friends. She’s excited about school and has great plans for her future, but she hasn’t always felt so hopeful.

Sudama was born with a visual impairment, which her family believed meant that she would never be able to lead an independent life. But a few years ago, Sudama’s life changed dramatically thanks to a self-defence and judo training project run by Sightsavers with Tarun Sanskar, a local disability organisation.

“Before learning judo,” Sudama says, “I was always thinking that I am disabled and I cannot do anything. I was also thinking that somebody can harass me. I was scared to go on the streets. I thought,–‘How I will go out? How my life will go on? I cannot study. The school is far from my village, and I cannot go there on my own.’ My mother and father wouldn’t allow me to go to school alone, because there was the possibility that somebody would harass me or I would fall down.”

“I was worried about Sudama before learning judo,” says her father Chote. “I was worried because she is disabled – where she will go, what will she do? She was always dependent on somebody before learning judo. She was not independent. Somebody had to look after her and we were not really able to go to the village and leave her at home.”

Sudama and her father sat outside. Sudama is taking a selfie.

Sudama with her father Chote.

Photo © Arko Datto

After joining the training programme, Sudama quickly excelled at judo, and soon started competing at national championships in India. But at first her parents weren’t so sure about letting their daughter travel and compete. “The first time [I went for a tournament],” she says, “I didn’t tell my parents about it. When I came back from the tournament, it was the people from Tarun Sanskar who told them that I had won in judo.”

Although they had been sceptical initially, hearing about Sudama’s success made her parents proud. “It made me feel good,” says her father, Chote, “because I got this feeling that now my girl is in sports and she can excel in this sport.”

Sudama competing in judo.

Sudama competing at the USHA Sports Championships for the Blind in Delhi, January 2018.

Photo © Arko Datto

But it isn’t just the fact that Sudama is competing, and often taking home medals that makes her parents happy.

“She used to be immature, but she has changed a lot after learning judo,” says Chote. “Now I feel like my girl can face any danger,” he adds. “Now, I am at peace.”
“After learning judo, Sudama has become brave,” says her mother Summi. “She is going to different countries, different places in different states which has made her courageous. After learning judo, she has become wise.”

“Things have changed a lot’, Sudama adds “Before, we [people with disabilities] weren’t considered important, but nowadays, if suppose I refuse to go to practice judo, now my parents will force me to go, because they say that it will help me to shape my future.”

“I’ve loved learning judo and it is important for girls to learn, because after learning judo, they can go anywhere without any hassles.”

Now that she has self-defence skills, Sudama has been able to return to her education. “I can go to school. Actually, I can go all over,” she says, “and I can handle any difficulties. I can walk alone without fear now. I feel really good about going back to school. I can continue my studies, and I can continue to learn judo, too. After school, I want to be a judo instructor, and I want to teach people like me, my brothers and sisters, judo. I want to put them forward.”

Sudama and her mother. Sudama is leaning on her mothers shoulder.

Sudama with her mother Summi.

Photo © Arko Datto

Seeing Sudama’s success and amazing transformation, district officials in her community have decided to open a training facility nearby so that Sudama, who has also become a certified self-defence trainer, can teach other young women self-defence and judo.

“It feels good because it makes me feel that after they learn, they can also teach somebody,” Sudama says. “They can move forward and they can achieve more.”

March 2020: Read our update on Sudama and her judo champion teammates

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