Rural Obscurity to “National Dreams”
Organiser   11-Sep-2018
The economic challenges faced by the athletes from the rural backgrounds have not stopped them to fulfill the “National Dreams” and achieving great success
Abhishsek Dubey

Hima Das, 18-year-old girl from Assam is likely to carry the baton of Indian athletics in the years to come. She is the daughter of a farmer. Swapna Barman, who is 21 years old, has got a medal for the country in heptathlon. She fought physical deformity, she fought adversity, and she fought pain in her way. The girl from West Bengal is the daughter of a rickshaw puller. V K Vismaya, 21, from Kerala, is the daughter of a small contractor. She had just four months of relay training under Coach Galina Bukharina before she anchored India to 4x400 meters relay gold. Tajender Pal Singh, a 23-year-old shot putter who won gold for the country is the real-life hero of the Asian Games 2018. His father, who is a farmer, was battling cancer while he was preparing for his golden glory in Jakarta. He breathed his last after his son stood on the top of the podium amidst the national anthem reverberating far and wide in the stadium. Saritaben Gayakwad, 24 years, is the daughter of the farm labour from Gujarat. She hails from Karadi Amba, a remote village in the tribal-dominated Dang district in Gujarat. She overcomes real-life struggles to win gold at the 2018 Asian Games.
Saurabh Chaudhary is not yet eligible for the driving license. The 16-years old, Asian Games debutant won India’s first shooting gold of 2018 Asian Games. His parents are farmers by occupation. “I don’t feel any pressure. I like farming. We don’t get much time off from training, but whenever I do, I go back to my village Kalina and help my father”- the class 11 student said. Sanjeev Rajput clinched a silver medal in the men’s 50-metre Rifle 3 position shooting event of the 18th Asian Games. The new shooting star of Indian sports’ father was a street vendor. Another medal winner from shooting, Shardul Vihan’s father owns his farmland in Uttar Pradesh. This Asian Games has further strengthened the process of the more profound democratisation of sports in the country. Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat got gold for the country in wrestling. Amit Panghal won the gold medal in boxing. Bajrang and Vinesh are looked as the wrestling medal hope of the country in 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Amit will have to surmount; weight category challenges to emerge as a serious contender in boxing. All three of them come from Haryana and share the farming background. Pinacky Balhara, 19-year-old girl from Delhi won a medal in the game Kurash, about which even majority of sports lovers of the country are unaware. Her late father was a Delhi Jal board employee.
India finished their Asian Games 2018 campaign with 69 medals including 15 gold, 24 silver and 30 bronze
India’s first ever in Asian Games history
  • 23-year-old Tirth Mehta created history by winning the country's first ever eSports medal at Asian Games 2018, coming third and winning bronze in the collectible card-based video game tournament, called Hearthstone. 
  • Neeraj Chopra wins India's first javelin gold medal in Asian Games history 
  • A medal in Sepak Takraw in the Asian Games 
  • First-ever Table Tennis medal in Asian Games history. India didn't have single medal since TT introduced in 1958.
  •  Rahi Sarnobat became first Indian woman to win Asian games gold in shooting. 
  • Vinesh Phogat became Indian woman to win gold in wrestling 
The medal winners of the Asian games come from backgrounds as diverse as a defence to business. But the marked changed narrative is the emergence of winners from farming and rural background. The economic challenges faced by the winners rather than bogging them down have spurred them to achieve greater heights in life. This gets all the more palpable as we dig deeper into this overall narrative.
This has been India's best ever performance at the Asian Games, surpassing their previous best of 65 medals at Guangzhou in China in 2010
Swapna Barman suffered from a toothache for two days and played with bandaged jaws. This could not stop her from walking away with a heptathlon gold medal, India’s first ever in Asian Games history. In her journey from Jalpaiguri to Jakarta, she had faced so many hardships in life that trivialities like tooth-ache are too little and too small when compared to them. Her father, a rickshaw puller suffered a stroke in 2013 and has been bedridden since then. Her mother worked as a tea picker in the estate. She started as the high jumper, but she was told that she was too short to carry in the event. Picked for an SAI trial after two rejections in 2011 and 2012, she broadened her repertoire and focused on sharpening disciplines she was good at. This was a unique challenge for her as her added toes started to cut into her leg movements. After all, she has struggled to get shoes for her six toes all her life. She had met many doctors and experts and been in rehab for days together. All these combined to make her so tough in life that she won a gold medal at the Asian Games. Her family broke down and cried after she won the gold. Swapna is the sole earning member of the family, and she has coped up with all the difficulties in her life with a simple sentence, “Why to bother when I am there”!
The Asian Games gold medal winner, Tejender Pal Singh, was on his way home when he heard about the sad demise of his father Karam Singh. Tejinder, who has had the most significant accomplishment of his career, was eager to share the achievement with his father. Tejinder said to the reporters waiting outside the village-“This medal is my biggest achievement because a lot of sacrifices have been made. For the last two years, my father has been battling with cancer. My family though never let me get distracted. They allowed me to chase my dream. My family and friends have made a lot of sacrifices and all those have paid today. My family never pressurised to attend my father in the hospital, and it was always my friend who took care of all the hospital formalities in my absence. I have not gone home much in this period since I was training in Dharamsala. Now I will meet my dad, but I will be there for only two days. I have to get ready for the next challenge”. Eager to meet his parents, he decided to leave for Moga in Punjab by road. But he had hardly covered a few kilometres when he got the news that his father had breathed his last.
The company in which Manjit Singh worked refused to renew his contract saying that he was not good enough and young enough to improve on the tracks. In Jakarta, he got a historic Asian Games gold medal in men’s 800 meters. Between 2016 and the finishing line in 2018, his is the inspirational story of never giving up your dream at any cost. When ONGC in 2016 decided against extending his contract after the sprinter failed to win medals at the national or international level, Manjit approached army chief coach Amrish Kumar. After Kumar agreed to take Manjit under his tutelage, he trained him at the national camp at Ooty. His father, who is a dairy farmer, bore the expenses for his out-of-job son. There still was the gap between the lip and the sip. He failed to qualify for Asian Championships 2017 and Commonwealth Games 2018. Finally, he qualified for Asian Games after finishing second at Inter-State Athletics Championships in Guwahati. He narrowly qualified for the finals at the Games in Indonesia as the 8th fastest in the heats. And, then came the final hour, instead, we can call it the last few seconds. With 50m to go and three athletes ahead of him, Manjit displayed some incredible burst off pace. In the process, he also bettered his personal best by 9 seconds as he clocked 1:46:15. Manjir, rightfully, has now set his eyes on the Olympics.
Dutee Chand raced with enough speed to fetch two silver medals in one of the most competitive tracks and field events. But more than the colour of the medal, what matters is the way she got through the dark days in the last several years as she battled to compete in athletics despite her hyperandrogenism. She was not allowed to participate in the 2014 edition while serving a ban of the IAAF. She filed an appeal against this policy before the Court of Arbitration for sports and won it. After her historic win, talking to the Indian reporters in Jakarta she said, "I have faced a lot since 2014. No one has gone through such a bad phase. I am glad that I could win two medals for the country. As of now, there is no issue, but there is no guarantee (of any ban)”. Perhaps, a thousand thoughts flooded her mind before the race. The two silvers in her neck now will give her confidence to plan and pace out her expertise in a better manner in the future.
The devastating floods in Kerala challenged many lives. One of them was swimmer Sajjan Prakash, who hails from Idukki district of the state. He was unaware of where his maternal family was in flood hit Kerala. His mother chooses to keep the news away from him. He was not the only Indian athlete who was trapped in this situation as over 40 athletes from the state oscillated between anxiety and concern for the loved ones while trying to focus on their Asian Games campaign. Muhammed Anas Yahiya, who won the silver medal, hails from Nilamel town near the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram.
Asian Games 2018 defined India’s best performance in the games. But, sports are not only about medal counts. Sports are not just about the victories and the finishing lines. These moments come too far and too few in any sportspersons life. That too, if at all they come. Sports are about the sweat and blood, challenges and hurdles and crisis and adversities which the sportsperson’s go through on the long and arduous path to the stardom. In a way, more than gold medals and the tally, Asian Games 2018 is the story of the grit, determination, ambition and fight unto the last breath of the emerging new India. It’s another incredible story of the triumph of the daughters of the country. Vinesh Phogat, PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal have reaffirmed the faith that the fight of the daughters of the country to get the coveted gold in Tokyo 2020 is going to continue. Indian hockey team failed to fetch gold after a remarkable performance. But the days of – ‘Phir dil do hockey do’ has truly arrived.
The abiding picture of Jakarta for India is the emergence of the young sporting stars in the horizon of Indian sports. One of the over-riding narratives of the India story in Jakarta is about the spread of the medals which the country has got across the disciplines. However, there was one picture which was speaking thousands of words. The Sports Minister of the country, RajyaVardhan Singh Rathore, 48, is seen in a formal suit, holding a tray as he speaks to Indian sportspersons at a dining area at the games village in Jakarta. This comes as a paradigm shift concerning the Sports Minister appreciating the athletes. It sends across an overwhelming message as to how the athletes should be the prime and supreme focus. And, the message has come right from the top. The more profound democratisation of the sports across the country has been solidly backed by projects like ‘khelo India’ and ‘Fit Rahe India’ which has the potential to bring about transformative changes in the Indian sports.
(The writer is a senior sports journalist)