Bahujan gymnast creates history in Olympics

Dipa Karmakar’s performance has again underlined the truth that only those born into productive castes can achieve success in sports requiring physical prowess


Dipa Karmakar at the Rio Olympics

Olympic Games got off to a scintillating start at the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with the famous Samba dance. More than 11,000 athletes from 209 countries are participating in this mother of all sports contests. Young American shooter Ginny Thrasher has won the first gold. American swimmer Michael Phelps has created a new record in 4X100 metre freestyle relay, taking the number of his gold medals to 19 – a feat which will be next to impossible for any sportspersons to replicate in the future. Novak Djokovic and Venus Williams are out of the first round of Olympics tennis. As for the Indian contingent, it seems to be committed to preserving the old tradition of coming a cropper. Tennis sensation Sania Mirza and the ever-young Leander Paes, who is playing in the Olympics for the seventh time, have lost their doubles matches in the first round. “Pistol king” Jitu Rai, from whom India had great hopes, is out of the 10m air pistol contest. The Indian men’s hockey team, which had vanquished South Korea 5-2 in 2004, beat Ireland 3-2 in Rio but then lost to Germany in its second match, thanks to a goal scored by the rival team just 3 seconds before the end the match. This has put paid to the hopes of the Indian hockey team doing the country proud by returning home with a gold medal. The Indian sports lovers had great hopes from Abhinav Bindra, who had grabbed gold in men’s 10m air rifle contest in the last Olympics. But their hopes were dashed with Bindra finishing fourth in Rio. In this otherwise bleak scenario, Indians have turned to Dipa Karmakar, who has entered the finals of gymnastics, creating history and bringing some consolation.

Born into a Bahujan family of Agartala on 6 August 1993, Dipa, in April this year, had created history by securing an Olympics berth in artistic gymnastics. Obviously, when she reached Rio, she was carrying a huge baggage of expectations. But that did not affect her performance and she has managed to enter the finals, to be played on 14 August. Now, the country is waiting for that day with bated breath. Dipa’s coach B.S. Nandi is under tremendous stress. In April, Dipa had clinched gold for vault at the test event of Rio Olympics, fuelling expectations that she will return home with gold. Whether Dipa will be able to fulfil those expectations, only 14 August will tell. But even if she does not win a medal, drawing inspiration from the way she clawed her way to the finals, the sports authorities can change the face of Indian sports.

Dipa and coach

Dipa Karmakar and coach B.S. Nandi

There was a time when nations used to showcase their valour on battlegrounds. Now they do it on sports grounds. Before becoming an economic superpower, China had become a sports superpower. But whether it is the battleground or the sports ground, what is needed is physical prowess. Physical prowess is not always a function of training and facilities. Besides other factors, physical prowess was at the root of the extraordinary successes of all-time great players like Michael Phelps, Sergei Bubka, Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Marion Jones, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Ian Thorpe and Serena Williams. It is because of the lack of physical prowess that our players have been performing poorly in Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and other international events.

Our geographical situation is not conducive to the development of physical strength. But battling the inherent odds, members of some castes have managed to build extraordinary physical strength. Braving the heat, cold and rains, they have been growing food grains to feed the nation. Khashaba Jadhav, Mary Kom, P.T. Usha, Jyotirmay Sikdar, Karnam Malleshwari, Sushil Kumar, Vijender Singh, Leander Paes, Sania Mirza, Bhaichung Bhutia, etc all belong to castes which primarily do physical work. The players of productive castes (mainly the castes that fall within the OBC category and the Dalit castes) contributed to all the successes of Indian hockey. Abhinav Bindra, Rajyavardhan Singh, Prakash Padukone, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Gagan Narang, Geet Sethi, Vishwanathan Anand, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Saurabh Ganguly and other members of non-productive castes could achieve success only in games in which technique and training can help you become champions and physical strength is secondary. As far as cricket is concerned, only fast-bowling requires physical strength and that is why Bhagwat Chandrashekhar, Prasanna, Venkat, Dileep Doshi, R. Ashwin and others from non-productive castes could only become good spinners. Spin bowling requires an expert movement of wrist rather than physical strength. On the other hand, Kapil Dev, Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami, etc, all who brought name for India as fast-bowlers, came from productive castes. Kapil Dev, Vinod Kambli, Virendra Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Shikhar Dhawan and others known for their explosive batting are from the toiler castes.

Jesse Owens and teammate competing in the 400 meter relay, Berlin Olympics, 1936

Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

By qualifying for the finals in gymnastics, Dipa Karmakar has again underlined the truth that only those born into productive castes can achieve success in sports requiring physical prowess. Dipa’s success shows that instead of looking for talent in posh colonies, our selectors should go to the Untouchables, Backwards, minorities and Tribals living in the forests and the mountains. Only then can we hope of becoming a sports superpower like China. Promoting sporting talents of deprived communities is also necessary because the Blacks, women and other traditionally deprived communities of the world have the desire to prove themselves and are using sports to do so. That is why European nations are vying with each other to grant citizenship to black sporting talents. Even Germany is not an exception to this trend. There was a time when Hitler had announced that only the God above and the German race of pure Aryan blood on the Earth had the capacity to rule. Berlin had hosted the Olympics during his rule and he had claimed that the Aryans would emerge at the top in the games. But puncturing his claims, the 1936 Berlin Olympics threw up sporting legend Jesse Owens. As the young African American athlete stood on the highest pedestal of the victory stand, accepting gold after gold, the white men around looked like pygmies. He won golds in four track and field events – 100m, 200m, long jump and 4x100m relay. Unable to digest Owens’ sparkling success, an intolerant Hitler left the stadium. Owens was one of the descendants of the blacks who were brought to Liverpool in England like animals to be sold into slavery. He demolished the myth of racial superiority forever. Others like him, including Garry Sobers, Frank Worrell, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Vivian Richards, Arthur Ashe, Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali, Carl Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Maurice Greene, Merlene Ottey and Serena Williams, also proved the point. Having realized that the deprived communities have an ardent desire to prove themselves, Hitler began importing non-Aryan blood into Germany. Today, Germany has the most racially diverse sporting talents. Blacks representing Hitler’s country in international tournaments has become common enough.

Taking their cue from Germany, the heads of various sports bodies in India should also think in terms of giving preference to sportspersons from deprived castes, although – hailing, as they do, from the elite castes – it will be a difficult proposition for them. In the national interest, they will have to let go of their narrow mindset – the mindset that led to this country severing the thumbs of Eklavyas to make Arjuns the champions. If, even in the 21st century, we don’t abandon this mindset, we will have to remain content with successes in games like cricket, chess, carom and billiards, and Olympic medals will continue to be a distant dream for us.

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