By Jyotsna Hans:
Sport means something different to different people. While for some people, it’s merely a source of entertainment, for others, it is an honour and means of livelihood. The following sports personalities have made a space for themselves in international sports. Coming from tribal backgrounds, they have inspired hundreds of youngsters from their areas to make a name for themselves in sports.
Mary hails from Kangathei, Manipur. Six times world champion boxer, a wife and a mother, Chungneijang Mary Kom Hmangte needs no introduction. She recently became the first woman athlete recommended for the Padma Vibhushan. The name Magnificent Mary is perfect for Mary, as it not only describes her but represents her as an epitome of perseverance.
At just 18 years of age, she made her international debut, at the first AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championship in the United States, where she won a silver medal in the 48 kg weight category. She said that people used to say that boxing is for men and not for women, and she wanted to prove them wrong. Needless to say, she fulfilled her promise. At the London Olympics 2012, she became the first Indian woman boxer to win an Olympic medal in boxing. This was one moment amongst a staggeringly long list of achievements, which made India proud of its champion boxer.
Jaipal Singh Munda was a man who excelled in many fields. He was a constitutional expert politician, prolific writer, and a fine sportsman. He was the captain of the Indian field hockey team up until the quarter-finals. The team eventually won the gold medal in the 1928 Summer Olympics, in Amsterdam. From graduating in economics from Oxford University to teaching in Ghana to forming Adivasi Mahasabha in 1937, he was a visionary for Adivasi politics and empowerment.
He was a staunch supporter of tribal rights and had deep-rooted pride about being an Adivasi. While speaking for the first time in the Assembly, on 19 December 1946, he said “Sir, I am proud to be a ‘Jangli’ that is the name by which we are known in my part of the country. You cannot teach democracy to the tribal people: you have to learn democratic ways from them. They are the most democratic people on earth.” Jaipal Singh Munda also played a key role in the framing of the Constitution of India.
Jharkhand has a special place for its archers. From wooden bow and arrows to custom-designed bows for international events, the journey speaks for itself. Komalika hails from the city of Jamshedpur in Jharkhand. Her father sold a part of their house to buy her archery equipment.
Due to all the hard work and self-determination, she recently clinched the gold medal in women’s cadet recurve category, in the World Archery Youth Championships, in Madrid. She brought back the title after 10 years and became India’s second woman archer, (recurve cadet), world champion, after Deepika Kumari. She is determined to achieve more success in the future.
Dilip Tirkey is the premier name in the tribal belts when it comes to hockey. An ex-captain of the then Indian hockey team in the 2004 Athens Olympics, he also represented India in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He bid adieu to international hockey in the year 2010, becoming the most capped player in the world – 403 times to be exact. He is truly a steward of tribal toil and labour in the field of hockey. Hailing from Orissa, this recipient of the Arjuna Award in 2001 and Padma Shri in 2004 presently works as Chairman of Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC).
Birendra Lakra is one of 3 hockey players in his family. His brother Bimal, and sister Asunta are professional hockey players as well. He debuted in the year 2012 in the Test Series against South Africa. He is one of India’s most versatile hockey players. Birendra represented India in Men’s Hockey during the 2012 London Olympics. Along with his team, he won a gold medal at the 2014 Asian Games, and a silver medal, at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. He plays for Ranchi Rays in the Indian Hockey League. This unsung player is a silent guardian of Indian Hockey.
Sports bring honour to any country today. It is widely discussed, recognised and supported. Tribal belts have given India many many sportspersons in the past and will continue to produce such jewels. It has provided them with an opportunity to be all that they are capable of being. However, there is still much to be done. In a country where cricket gets the most recognition and steals the show, it is becoming more and more important to give special attention to other sports and acknowledge the athletes working hard to bring home medals and accolades.
The organisation of events like the First National Sports Meet 2019 for Tribals, in Hyderabad, and India’s First Tribal Sports Meet in Odisha, are great initiatives that need to be encouraged, as they help open many doors for tribals and Adivasis in India.
About the author: Jyotsna Hans is a content writer for Adivasi Lives Matter. She is pursuing her undergraduate degree in law. She is fond of good food, good reads and good places to travel. “Through my articles, I tend to bring all tribal goodness in the limelight,” she says.