As the winter sun rises over a mustard farm, bright orange bleeding into bright yellow, a line of 36 girls all dressed alike — T-shirts, sweatpants, crew cuts — appear in an open field and rub the sleep from their eyes. Beneath a tin shed, they squat, bent over quarry. Over the next 20 minutes, they crush raw almonds into a fine paste and strain out a bottle of nut milk. They will need it to regain their strength.

Yudhveer Akhada, started in 2017, is an all-girls wrestling academy run by a family of competitive wrestlers in Sonipat, a semi-urban industrial town in Haryana, a province in northern India bordering Delhi. It currently hosts 45 trainees who, upon arrival, are usually between 10 and 15 and are expected to stay until they are 20, immersing themselves in the growing community of girls who wrestle. Every student who enters the academy has the same goal: to win an Olympic medal for India.

“In India, we are surrounded by stories of violence against women,” said Prarthna Singh, the photographer on this story. Yet the country has also seen increasing participation in women’s sports, such as wrestling. “Within these patriarchal constructs, we have these academies where young women are creating a space for themselves as sportswomen. It’s inspiring to see them put in the dedication and rigor it takes to become one.”

After the warm-up, their training varies. Fitness days can involve a cross-country run or stair climbing. On sports days, they play handball or basketball. Strength-building days are the most demanding of all: The girls have to drag blocks of wood across the field or pull themselves up several meters with gnarled ropes.

A young woman wearing a blue sweater, black pants and sneakers, holds a rope hanging in the air.  She is level with the top of a tree, which is to her right.  To her left are more ropes and a wood pole.

“Had we not come here, our lives would have been very different,” said Siksha Kharb, above, a 16-year-old girl from a farming family in Sonipat. If she wasn’t wrestling, she said, “I’d drop out of school to get married.”