In­dian tal­ent recipe

Why cer­tain parts of In­dia churn out the best sportsper­sons

Down to Earth - - RIO 2016 - @down2earth­in­dia

EVER WON­DERED why the non­de­script town of Bhi­wani in the mid­dle of Haryana pro­duces In­dia’s best box­ers, such as Vi­jen­der Singh, Ji­ten­der Ku­mar, Akhil Ku­mar and Vikas Kr­is­han Ya­dav? Again, why does Haryana pro­duce the best wrestlers like Sushil Ku­mar, Yo­gesh­war Dutt and Geeta Phogat? Why is Sun­der­garh, a re­mote forested district in Odisha bor­der­ing Jhark­hand, the hub of hockey that has pro­duced greats like Dilip Tirkey, Wil­liam X al co, Ig­nace T ir key and Sub had ra Pr ad han?

There is no one sin­gle an­swer to these ques­tions. Ex­perts Down To Earth spoke to gave a num­ber of rea­sons why these re­gions have pro­duced the best sports­men and women in In­dia.

Take the case of Haryana, which pro­duces fine wrestlers and box­ers. This state, with just 2 per cent of In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion, alone ac­counts for 20 per cent of the In­dian Olympic con­tin­gent. Box­ing coach Jagdish Singh puts it down to its farm­ing cul­ture. “Haryana largely prac­tises rain-fed agri­cul­ture. Peo­ple have to per­form ex­treme phys­i­cal labour to grow crops. As a re­sult, they are stronger and more phys­i­cally fit than peo­ple in other parts of In­dia,” says Singh of the Na­tional Box­ing Acad­emy in Ro­htak who has coached Vi­jen­der Singh in the past. “An­other rea­son is gov­ern­ment sup­port. The pre­vi­ous Congress gov­ern­ment pro­vided a lot of fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives and en­cour­age­ment to as­pir­ing box­ers.”

An­thro­pol­o­gist Joseph Al­ter would re­mind you that Haryana is a Jat land with old wrestling tra­di­tion. Jats form 30 per cent of Haryana’s pop­u­la­tion. Wrestlers in In­dia come from re­gions that have his­tor­i­cally been cen­tres for pa­tron­age un­der the for­mer princely states of In­dia. Haryana as well as Ma­ha­rash­tra, Pun­jab and east­ern Ut­tar Pradesh have strong martial tra­di­tions, and this is sup­ported by caste group mas­cu­line iden­tity, as in the case of Ya­davs in east­ern Ut­tar Pradesh and Jats in Haryana, says Al­ter who has ex­ten­sively stud­ied wrestling in In­dia.

One can­not miss the pres­ence of trib­als in cer­tain sports. The rea­son, says Ganesh Narayan Devy, a tribal rights ac­tivist and lin­guist, is so­ci­o­log­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal, and not phys­i­o­log­i­cal. “Trib­als are not too self­con­scious of their body as a so­cial en­tity. They are nur­tured by their so­ci­eties for dis­ci­pline, en­durance and tol­er­at­ing hunger and pain. Be­ing nur­tured for en­durance, they per­form very well in ath­let­ics. But if you ask them to play golf, they will not be suc­cess­ful.”

Agrees Vir­ginius Xaxa, a tribal ex­pert at the Tata In­sti­tute of So­cial Sciences in Guwa­hati. “In­dian trib­als mostly in­habit hilly, forested ar­eas. They have to walk miles to go to other places. This makes them stur­dier. More­over, trib­als have evolved en­gag­ing in hunt­ing and col­lect­ing food. This makes them great out­door per­sons, with a spe­cial affin­ity for sports,” he points out. “Tribal so­ci­eties, es­pe­cially in the North­east, are also com­mu­nal in na­ture. They en­gage in col­lec­tive ac­tiv­i­ties from re­pair­ing houses to work­ing in the paddy fields. This is an­other fac­tor for their sport­ing at­ti­tude.”

No­tably, five women from the tribal ar­eas of In­dia are com­pet­ing at Rio. “There are no re­stric­tions on girls in tribal so­ci­eties. They are given equal op­por­tu­ni­ties. That’s why we see fe­male sports­men from tribal com­mu­ni­ties,” ex­plains Xaxa.

Tiny state of Ma­nipur stands out for send­ing sev­eral sportsper­son to Rio. “Na­tional Games (in 1999) gave it the in­fra­struc­ture. For 25 years there has been the cul­ture of sports in Ma­nipur. Econ­omy also plays a role,” says S S Roy, head of the Ne­taji Sub­has Na­tional In­sti­tute of Sports, Pa­tiala. As part of a coun­try­wide tal­ent hunt in the late 1980s and early 1990s he had trav­elled ex­ten­sively in the North­east. “North­east­ern peo­ple have this never say die spirit. There is ag­gres­sive de­mand for sports,” he adds. Roy re­mem­bers es­tab­lish­ing sports cen­tres in Im­phal and Aizawl that have be­come “tal­ent-churn­ing mills in box­ing”.

Deepika Ku­mari from the tribal heart­land of Jhark­hand used to tar­get man­goes on trees in child­hood

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