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5 Inspiring Tribal Sports Persons You Should Know About

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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 Kom

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.

Gold medallist India’s Hmangte Chungneijang Mary Kom celebrates during the victory ceremony after winning the women’s flyweight (48-51kg) boxing final match against Kazakhstan’s Shekerbekova Zhaina during the 2014 Asian Games at the Seonhak Gymnasium in Incheon on October 1, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ INDRANIL MUKHERJEE (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

Jaipal Singh Munda

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.

Jaipal was a distinguished parliamentarian who debated during drafting constitution of India, a captain who led India in 1928 Summer Olympics and clinched gold, a great orator and an advocate of tribal rights. | Image Source: http://www.adivasiresurgence.com/jaipal-singh-munda-visionary-adivasi-intellectual-modern-india/

Komalika Bari

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. 

Komalika Bari won the World Youth Archery Championship in the Recurve Cadet Girls category | Image Source: https://worldarchery.org/news/174572/bari-becomes-third-indian-archer-hold-world-archery-champion-crown

Dilip Tirkey

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).

Dilip Tirkey is the most capped player in the world – 403 times to be exact.

Birendra Lakra

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. 

Birendra Lakra is one of 3 hockey players in his family.

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. 

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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