Table of Contents
The Indian tribal sports community has always produced magnificent talents who have brought many medals and laurels to the country. Their grit, talent, and tenacity are second to none. Having endured many challenges in life, they are accustomed to being under difficult circumstances. Without many facilities and due to living in hilly areas with nature around them, they are physically strong. Their high spirit keeps them going even on tough days.
Jharkhand has produced countless athletes who have been instrumental in the country’s success in Sports. The robust and efficient athletes from tribal areas have been involved in sports back since the early 1980s and the culture seems to have grown from strength to strength in the coming years.
Lagaan like a triumph: A beginning of something extraordinary for tribal sports in Jharkhand
In 1885, Christian missionaries entered Jharkhand. To build a better relationship with people, Sports were introduced in the state. It served as a medium to connect with people. During the era of colonialism, young men associated with Anglican Church in Ranchi participated in Beighton Cup under the name of SPG Mission, Ranchi. The team that played in the tournament consisted of people like gardeners, sweepers, carpenters, cooks, etc.
Subhash Dey, the champion team’s goalkeeper, Nehemia Minz, was a carpenter by profession, Sadho Kachhap, a cook, Ishwari Prasad Minz, the Bishop’s helper, and Prabhu Sham Dadel, a carpenter. In 1897, 1898, 1902, 1903, 1906, and 1907, the team’s Baton Cup victories highlighted the Chhota Nagpur tribe’s talent. The team won the cup six times and remained champion for three consecutive years.
Tribal Sports Start – Sumrai Tete: A little girl with big dreams
Simdega is a very small town in southwest Jharkand surrounded by Odisha in the south and Chhattisgarh in the west having a 70 percent population of Scheduled Tribes. To master the fundamentals of hockey, Sumrai Tete, an inhabitant of the Kasira Baliyajor hamlet in the Bolba block, used sticks made of kendu (ebony) and baans (bamboo). Even while it started as entertainment, it quickly became a passion.
Things changed for Tete in 1990. Sumrai’s talent was discovered by the seasoned eyes of former District Sports Officer Robert Kispotta and international hockey coach Narendra Singh Saini to be a treasure and brought to the State Hockey Training Centre at the Government Girls High School, Bariatu, Ranchi. This was the first time the talented teenager held a hockey stick in her hand. It was like a dream even to hold the stick.
5 years later, Sumrai made her debut for India and never looked back since then. For a career spanning from 1995 to 2006, she played more than 100 international matches as well as captained the side in a few of them. Even after her retirement, she became the coach for the national team.
The little girl from Simdega with no shoes and hockey stick became the first female hockey player to win the Major Dhyan Chan Award for Lifetime Achievement in Sports and Games in 2017. This is the story of a fighter, who had a strong burning desire and no hurdle could ever stop her from becoming the best.
The Growth of Tribals in Football
The other tribal sports communities from Jharkand also have represented at the national level. Just as Jharkhand is famous for mining various minerals, the State has also unearthed many diamonds in the Sporting fraternity.
India participated for the first time in the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2022. Ashtam Oraon of Gumla district, Bishunpur block, Banari Gorratoli village was the captain. Apart from Ashtam, the team included Neelu Linda, Anjali Manda, Anita Kumari, Purnima Kumari, and Sudha Ankita Tirkey.
Ashtam’s house did not even have electricity or television. The village did not even have a paved road. Due to her growing name in the country, roads were built in her village and a television and inverter were given to her family. Ironically, her parents who were wage workers worked to build a road in her village.
Ashtam was made the brand ambassador of Savitribai Phule Kishori Samridhi Yojna by Gumla District Administration. A stadium is also going to be built under her name in her village.
Other Notable Athletes from Jharkhand
Tribal sports and athletes from Jharkhand kept setting new marks on a global scale, contributing to the illustrious history of Indian sports. Jaipal Singh Munda became the first star of the tribal sports community. His headmaster took him to England. Jaipal Singh played Football, Cricket as well as Tennis. During his tenure as a captain in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, Jaispal took India to the final, and India won the gold medal.
Michael Kindo from 1972, Silvanus Dungdung from 1980, Manohar Topno from 1984, Ajit Lakra from 1992, Nikki Pradhan from 2016 to 2021, and Salima Tete are a few examples (2021). The last time India won a hockey gold medal was at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Silvanus Dungdung from Simdega was a member of this group. Nikki Pradhan has made history by being the first female hockey player from Jharkhand to compete in two Olympic competitions.
Jharkhand’s Ashakiran Barla won the 800 m race in the recent Asian Under-18 Athletic Championship in Kuwait, taking home the gold medal. Asha hails from a very low-income household; her house doesn’t even have a toilet.
Sujit Munda of Ranchi will represent India in the third Blind T-20 World Cup, which will take place from December 6–17, 2022. Sujit is from an extremely low-income family, where three of his brothers are laborers.
Special Characteristics of Tribal Sports
Narendra Saini has trained more than 65 sportspersons in the country. He believes that the tribal people are naturally talented and possess a lot of skills. Training improves and refines their skills and brings a lot of professionalism to them. It also improves their work ethics and diet and planning.
Sanjeev Kumar Singh was associated with the Tata Archery Academy for a very long time. He said that archery and hockey flow through the DNA of the tribal people. They can easily grasp and adapt to the game and with a lot of ease. Tribals are extremely talented and hardworking. If they are channelized in the right direction, they become unstoppable.
More than 80 percent of the people who represent the country have roots in villages.
According to Dashrath Mahto, coach of Olympian Nikki Pradhan, there is extreme poverty in the tribal community. Hence, young children look upon Sports as a possible career option.
Manoj Konbegi looks after the young talent in Simdega. He believes that the tribals are strong due to their geographical location, the food they eat, and the circumstances in which they live. Hence tenacity is in their blood and they keep fighting hard till the last moment.
General Secretary of Hockey India, Bholanath Singh, feels that these athletes can pull off a game comfortably, even on a hot day without breaking any sweat.
To inculcate the culture of sports and identify talent in the state, CM Hemant Soren had earlier directed the officials of the sports department to work on a special sports program called Sahay for the youth of Naxalite-affected areas. Officials have been asked to work intensively to link youth below 19 years of age with the Jharkhand Sahay Scheme. Under the Sahay Yojana, potential sports talents will be identified from the panchayat level and transferred to the block and district level where they will be groomed for national and international sports events.
Franz Gastler, a US citizen, began teaching football to local tribal females in Hutup, Ormanjhi, in Ranchi in 2008. This tribal sports training program was created by YUWA in response to the problems of child marriage, human trafficking, and children dropping out of high school and college.
Just within a very few years, 8 tribal girls and 2 boys were sent to Spain for special Football Training. They represented the side: Real Sociedad!
Along with Sports training, education is also taken care of. The school was also started by YUWA in 2015 where English is taught to each student.
In 2013, Anand Prasad Gop started football training with 15 girls in Irba, a very small town in Jharkhand. Today, a total of 250 sportsmen have been trained in six villages. The girls have not only represented 4 national competitions but also represented the nation in Denmark, Russia, and England.
This is just the start of things. With advanced training programs for tribal sports, a good diet, better infrastructure, and experienced coaches, the State can become the hub of finding young gems in Sports.
Schemes/ Programs for promoting sports
Panchayat Yuva Khel Kud Abhiyan
This program aims to promote sports in rural areas. Several sports competitions at different levels from Village Panchayat to State level will be organized under the program. It also envisages the development of sports grounds/playgrounds and sports facilities at various levels.
Sports Care Fund / Scholarship / Honor
Jharkhand has regularly performed well at the national and international levels. Towards that, the government provides maximum support to athletes through various welfare benefits schemes like Sports Welfare Fund, Honoring Sports Persons, and Sports Scholarship.
To encourage athletes and also provide them with opportunities to enhance their
skills in relevant sports fields at international/national/state/district/block level &
some other sports competitions. Such competitions include school games, Nehru Hockey Tournament, Women’s Festival, etc.