Indian tribal athletes have an edge over the athletes of other regions due to their daily struggle for survival which involves walking, running, hunting, climbing, carrying loads, weaving and handcrafting utility items. Their tough up bringing in the natural environment gives them the much needed strength, stamina and the killer instinct to compete at the highest level. Thanks to the natural environment and the nutrition rich crop diversity in the tribal regions.
The tribal district of Sundargarh of Odisha has given the Indian hockey team many star players. The district has given five hockey captains — Dilip Tirkey, Ignace Tirkey and Prabodh Tirkey to the men’s hockey team and Subhadra Pradhan and Jyoti Sunita Kulu to the women’s hockey team. Sundargarh has so far produced more than 60 International hockey players which include the Olympians Lazarus Barla, William Xalco, Birendra Lakra and Sunita Lakra. Recently, Deep Grace Ekka, Amit Rohidas and Birendra Lakra from the district have performed in the Tokyo Olympics 2021. The tribal athletes of North East India have made the country proud. Harsh climate, hilly tracks, crop diversity and tough life build their muscles, stamina and the fighting spirit to compete with the best athletes of the world. Born in a landless farmer’s family in the remote Kagathei village of Manipur, Mary Com has become a boxing legend by winning the World Amateur Boxing Championship six times and a bronze medal in the London Olympic game. Poverty did not deter the iron willed Mary Com to achieve what seemed impossible for many; the native crop diversity rich with nutrition and the harsh life contributed to her becoming a legend. Lovlina Borgohain, the Bronze medalist in the boxing event in the Tokyo Olympic, belongs to a poor family in the Golaghat district of Assam; she has got her strength and fighting spirit from her daily struggle for survival in a tough situation. Similarly, Mirabai Chanu from the Nongpok Sekmai village of Manipur who won a silver medal in weight lifting in the Tokyo Olympic, belongs to a similar socio-economic background. When Mirabai was at the age of 12, she had to collect firewood and carry it on her head to the paddy field. “While my other children would spend time studying and weaving, Mirabai would carry the firewood on her head to support me,” reportedly said her mother Tombi Devi.
Karnam Malleswari was the first Indian woman to win an Olympic bronze in Sydney. Born in a poor family in a small village of Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh, she had to go through poverty and hardship in her life. Similarly, Dutee Chand, sprinter from a poor weaver family of Odisha, clinched gold in the world Universiade in Naples in 2019; she was the first Indian to achieve a gold in 100 meter global meet. And she was the fifth Indian to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics in the 100 meter Olympic race. Dutee Chand has gone through extreme poverty; her mother used to give the children several cups of tea before meals in order to reduce appetite. Dutee’s elder sister had to close her sports career due to poverty. It was her luck, strong determination and hope that had kept Dutee running on the banks of the Brahmani river until she was noticed by the selectors. Dutee broke the national record for 100 m by clocking 12 seconds and won two silver medals in the 2018 Asian Games and in 2019.
The Olympic success of athletes belonging to poor families in remote districts without much sports infrastructure prove that India has natural sports talents in abundance who can win more Olympic medals for the country. It is quite natural that many sports talents in the remote tribal districts of India wither unnoticed. The Union Government’s National Sports Talent Search Scheme (NSTSS) which aims to identify and nurture talents in the age group of 8-12 years should be expanded and focused; it should be more inclusive and transparent. Environment friendly jobs should be created in tribal regions so that the tribal people could earn and let their children hone their sports skill. The new education policy aims to integrate sports with education with an objective to identify sports talents among the school going children. Being a nation of 142 crore people, India certainly deserves more medals.