Scouting talent from the grassroots

Sarita Brara | Updated on: Aug 24, 2018

A village affair A tournament under way in Basantpur, Shimla district Sarita Brara

Villagers in Himachal Pradesh actively pitch in at zonal tournaments that promote sports among students

The village wears a festive look and the atmosphere is electrifying. A three-day, under-14, sports tournament is on in Basantpur, Shimla district of Himachal Pradesh, where nearly 450 students from 26 schools are vying for medals.

Almost all villagers have turned up to cheer the teams. Games are simultaneously being played in the school compound and in the open fields where the crop has recently been harvested. Kabaddi or Kho Kho is perfect for the expansive outdoors.

In the evening begins the cultural bonanza. From naati (a famous folk dance of the State) to skits and songs, the students display their talent. Here too, there are prizes for the performances and for the debate, which is on the theme of the girl child.

This, however, is not an isolated event. It happens across the State in almost every village during zonal tournaments. While the games are hosted by the government schools, almost the entire village participates to ensure that visiting children from other schools have a memorable stay. These events primarily serve as opportunities to spot sporting talent in the State.

Balakram Kashyap, a medical doctor who is head of the Basantpur gram panchyat, says that every entity in the panchayat, including the mahila mandal, yuva mandal and the senior citizens group, gets involved in one way or the other. Some give donations, others render services or assistance in logistics during the three-day event.

Jagdish Verma, pradhan of the apple-rich gram panchyat Himri, which hosted under-19 games for girls last year, says that each one of the 15-odd families in the village provided milk, fruit juices and fruits every day, by turn, to the over 250 students gathered for the sporting events in the zone. In the evening the children of the village take students from other villages home for dinner.

The principal of Government Senior Secondary School Himri, Lalita Rana, says that in the meagre allowance of ₹60 per student for all meals it is difficult to provide a proper diet without the villagers’ help.

Most zonal events are held in July and August. “After the maize crop is harvested in July and before sowing for the next crop begins, the fields are utilised for sporting events such as kabaddi, cricket or volley ball,” informs Rana.

“Sushma Verma used to play cricket in the fields here with the boys and now she is playing international cricket,” says Verma proudly. He explains that there are no guest houses or hotels in the villages and the schools do not have enough space to accommodate 250 to 300 students, so it is the panchayats and villagers who come forward.

Bhoop Singh, the then head of Neen Gram pandchayat, recalls how the families in the villages came forward to accommodate students during the under-19 tournament in his village some years back. He opened his own house to accommodate nearly a 100 students from seven schools.

In addition, for talent scouting, the panchayats also organise open tournaments. There are several schemes, including the Panchayat Yuva Krida Evam Khel Abhiyan. However, physical educator Mundaghat Gopal laments that the funds provided to schools for organising tournaments are inadequate.

For the participants, besides showcasing their talent on and off the field, such events give a lot of exposure. They also build confidence to stay away from home, share common spaces and meals and give them a sense of responsibility.

“Most importantly, students learn to take defeat with dignity and victory with humility”, says the principal of a participating school. For the villagers it is a proud moment to host a tournament. Who knows, it may be a young boy or girl from their village who will make it to a national or international sporting event.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi

Published on August 24, 2018
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