GIFT OF EM­POW­ER­MENT

NIMA DOMA LEPCHA, STAR OF THE WIN­NING BAS­KET­BALL TEAM FROM GANGYAP, SIKKIM, ON OVER­COM­ING HUR­DLES AND CLINCH­ING SUC­CESS

India Today - - REAL STORY - As told to Mridu Rai

Aseven-hour bumpy drive from Gang­tok takes you to Gangyap, a re­mote vil­lage in Sikkim and home to Eklavya Model Res­i­den­tial School (EMRS). Built in 2007 by the Min­istry of Tribal Af­fairs, it is a higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tute for sched­uled tribes chil­dren. A team of girls, who had no idea what bas­ket­ball was went on to win the CBSE Na­tional Bas­ket­ball Cham­pi­onship in 2011; Nima Doma Lepcha, three times Na­tion­als most valu­able player tells their story.

I de­cided to join EMRS be­cause I thought of it as an es­cape route and was con­tem­plat­ing drop­ping out of the gov­ern­ment school I was in. EMRS was a makeshift one-storey build­ing with a few scat­tered desks and benches, a cou­ple of black­boards, a box of chalk and 52 con­fused chil­dren. The Prin­ci­pal, Sid­dharth Yon­zone, as­sured us that the school would even­tu­ally be a bet­ter place. At EMRS, we slowly evolved and learned to value our lives; Bas­ket­ball was one of the great­est lessons.

One day, after school, Yon­zone sir in­tro­duced us to the game; he brought an or­ange-coloured ball and asked us to drib­ble it. We fell in love with the game and started ex­er­cis­ing on a mud court with no real game kit. We were so Haryana’s tall, ro­bust and tough girls. Dur­ing the game, I was pushed by one of the play­ers and cracked my scapula. We lost the next game to Ch­hat­tis­garh and re­turned home emp­ty­handed and dis­ap­pointed.

This ex­pe­ri­ence was an eye-opener. From then on, win­ning the Na­tion­als was our only goal. After 12 months of in­tense prac­tice, the now men­tally strong team headed to Chen­nai in 2011. Once again, we were put in the same pool as Haryana and Ch­hat­tis­garh. With a sig­nif­i­cant mar­gin of en­grossed in learn­ing the nu­ances that not once did we feel de­prived. After a few months, we played our first game in bor­rowed kits against a pri­vate school and sur­pris­ingly ended up win­ning it. With back to back wins at state level, we re­alised we were ready for a big­ger stage.

In 2010, we be­came the CBSE north-east re­gional cham­pi­ons in Guwahati and headed to Ch­hat­tis­garh for the Na­tion­als. Two easy games were fol­lowed by a crit­i­cal re­al­ity check. We were pit­ted against about 30 points and truck­loads of sin­cer­ity, we won our first Na­tion­als.

From 2010 to 2013, we won two Na­tion­als but were still prac­tic­ing on a make-do court. Our achieve­ments got no­ticed and we re­ceived some do­na­tion. From chip­ping stones with ham­mers to car­ry­ing con­struc­tion ma­te­rial, we built our­selves a con­ven­tional bas­ket­ball court.

If destiny hadn’t brought us to EMRS, most of us would have be­come daily wage labour­ers or prob­a­bly would have mar­ried early.

With the world fi­nally look­ing at women em­pow­er­ment from a fresh per­spec­tive, we hope our story in­spires girls to take up sports in or­der to lib­er­ate them­selves.

IN 2010, OUR TEAM BE­CAME THE CBSE NORTH-EAST RE­GIONAL CHAM­PI­ONS IN GUWAHATI

(from left) Tsh­er­ing Ongmu, Tsh­ogyal Dolma, Chunkula Lepcha, and Nor­zom Bhutia

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