Indian sportswomen and the fire in their belly

Indian sport is powered by the poor. They are not recreational sportspersons, what fires them up is the lure of a better life - The Tribune

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Left: It was a shameful moment when some men allegedly shouted casteist slurs outside Vandana Katariya’s house, saying India lost in the semis due to too many Dalits in the national team. Right: When Tokyo silver medallist Mirabai Chanu posted a photo of herself having a meal in her house in a Manipur village, sitting on the floor, netizens were shocked.

Left: It was a shameful moment when some men allegedly shouted casteist slurs outside Vandana Katariya’s house, saying India lost in the semis due to too many Dalits in the national team. Right: When Tokyo silver medallist Mirabai Chanu posted a photo of herself having a meal in her house in a Manipur village, sitting on the floor, netizens were shocked.

By Rohit Mahajan | The Tribune | India |

Dear reader, even as your beloved child fills the forms for admission in an American university or applies for PR in Canada, the child of a jobless labourer or a construction site worker or a poor farmer, after a diet of watery milk and dal and rotis, runs hard with a hockey stick and a ball at feet, or climbs a rope up a tree at a wrestling akhada, or lifts weights in a shack that serves as a gym for the poor. These are the kids who become Mary Kom and Mirabai Chanu, Rani Rampal and Salima Tete, Ramesh Jadhav and Sumit Kumar, Vijender Singh and Dingko Singh.

Haryana has the best support system, and that’s one reason nearly 24 per cent of India’s athletes in Tokyo were from Haryana, whose population is just around 2.1 per cent of India’s

They write and speak in English that’s laughable. Their skins are dark, doubly tanned; the ears of the wrestlers are calloused and swollen, and they try to hide them with a moppy hairstyle. Undernourished as kids, they’re often scrawny — but wiry and swift. They don’t have anything that could be considered enviable. But they win gold. These are the kids who make your chest swell with pride when they win medals at the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games and, less often, at the Olympic Games.

A majority of our boxers come from rural India, from lower or middle-class background. Roti aur naukri is the first concern, and they are desperate to succeed and become secure through sport. — Gurbax Singh, former national boxing coach

Meet India’s sports champions. Indian sport is powered by the poor. They are not recreational sportspersons — wasting time lazing in a playground is not a luxury their families can afford when they could, instead, be shoring up the family’s finances by working in a farm, construction site or a dhaba. What makes them professional sportspersons is the lure of a better life — a government job, cash rewards with which the first thing they do is buy a house for their families.

It was a shameful moment when some men allegedly shouted casteist slurs outside Vandana Katariya’s house, saying India lost in the semis due to too many Dalits in the national team.

When Mirabai posted a photograph of herself having a meal in her house in Nongpok Kakching village in Manipur, sitting on the floor, netizens were shocked — an Olympics silver medallist, a former world champion, living in such modest circumstances. No, the Queen doesn’t live in a palace. Our sports queens and kings are paupers in reality who have, shedding tears and blood, become champions. They have every reason to be proud of what they’ve achieved; and our elite and upper classes must hang their heads in shame because they have, using their privilege, closed out all other avenues of social improvement for the poor and the underprivileged.

Read the full article, ‘Indian sportswomen and the fire in their belly’ (The Tribune, 9 Aug 2021), here.

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