NEW DELHI —
P.V. Sindhu, the 21-year-old badminton player who won one of India's two medals at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, returned to her hometown in southern India to cheering crowds Monday
Sindhu and freestyle wrestler Sakshi Malik restored some national pride in this patriarchal nation by returning with a silver and bronze medal respectively.
Sindhu's homecoming Monday included a ride through Hyderabad, the technology hub in southern India, in an open-top bus.
Hundreds of people lined the streets and politicians competed to have selfies with the first Indian woman to win an Olympic silver medal.
Sindhu and Malik have faced considerable odds to succeed as athletes — in a country where female infanticide is still a reality, sexual violence is widespread and girls trail boys on most health and education indicators.
Sindhu was beaten by Spain's Carolina Marin in the women's badminton final.
Malik, a 23-year-old wrestler from the northern state of Haryana, defeated Kyrgyzstan's Aisuluu Tynybekova in the 58 kilogram freestyle.
Dipa Karmarkar, a 23-year-old gymnast from the tiny northeastern state of Tripura, placed fourth in the vault final. She lost the bronze medal by the slimmest of margins but emerged from obscurity to wins millions of fans back home.
Athletes in India face constant hurdles regardless of gender, often lacking the proper training, facilities and equipment, but the women have to fight even harder.
Malik comes from a part of the country that more often makes the news for so-called honor killings and has a gender ratio skewed heavily in favor of boys. According to census data, the state of Haryana has only 834 girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of six. Sex-selective abortions and a systemic neglect of female children are blamed for the gender ratio.
Malik's father said that, when he allowed his daughter to start wrestling as a young girl, people would laugh at him. She's gone a long way since then: Malik was India's flag bearer at the games' closing ceremony.
Sindhu's coach Pullela Gopichand pulled no punches.
"Hats off to women for saving our face in front of the world," Gopichand said.