The performance of tribal/ Adivasi youth at the International Tribal Games, bears testimony to the fact that lack of opportunities, platforms and awareness have kept them at the margins. Adivasi Awaaz creator Kavi B., writes about the second edition of the International Tribal Games, in the following article.
My interest in Deepika Kumari's life and achievements led me to Touching Souls, the non profit organization that initiated the International Tribal Games. The organization works towards fulfilling the basic needs of tribal children like accessibility to education, food, clean drinking water, shelter, etc. They began utilizing sports activities 'as a medium to integrate the marginalized by giving them mainstream exposure and social mobility' (Touching souls announces second edition of International Tribal Games | India.com).
The 2017 Games, held at Delhi was the second edition of the International Tribal Games. A total of 90 tribal athletes, from 10 Indian states, participated in the Games. Teenage athletes from Mullu Kurumbar and Paniyar tribes won the maximum number of medals at the Games. Among them was an 18-year-old athlete Siju C, hailing from a small village called Bandalur taluk, situated in the Nilgiris . Siju was one of the 14 tribal youths from Bandalur taluk, who participated in the International Tribal Games. "We were very scared because everyone else was so tall and fit," said Siju. Despite the anxiety and fear Siju won a gold in the 400m race at the Games. Siju recalled how they were asked not to run barefoot and said, “Even though we were told not to run barefoot, we decided to go for it. We finished first, second and third at the competition." The tribal youth from this region won the most number of medals at the competition. They exceled not only at athletics but also at sports like archery.
Recent Opportunities In Sports For Tribal/ Adivasi Youth: Small Yet Powerful Changes:
In 2015, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) initiated the program called 'Special Area Games' (SAG), to discover athletes from marginalized communities. The tribal communities of Tamil Nadu were initially unaware of these programs. It was due to the efforts of Natarajan V, a 52 year old man of the Nilgiris Adivasi Tribal Federation, who was determined to get the region's tribal youth involved in sports. “Our Adivasi communities have a strong inclination towards sports, it has been a part of our culture. Adivasi youth is good at sports and so it is important to create awareness among them about the opportunities they have. Also, if these youngsters are involved in sports, they will stay away from drugs and alcohol, which is destroying their future and also the society” Natarajan stated.
Natarajan hails from Erumaimadu village and belongs to the Mullu Kurumbar community. He is a former sports coach, who has served in the army. While talking about the tribal youth who participated at the 2017 Games, he said, "I am very proud of their performance. We didn't train for two days and yet they performed so well. It shows that these kids can achieve great things if given a chance." From training them to facilitating their journey to Delhi, he played a crucial role. It is important to generate awareness and facilitate the inclusion of tribal communities into sports. The lack of opportunities and the lack of awareness regarding opportunities, pushes the tribal children into forced labour at tea plantations, agricultural and construction sectors.
Although the International Tribal Games are not a recognized sports event, they surely are a decisive step for the future of the tribal children as well as the tribal communities. Sabina Samad of Touching Souls declared that the Tamil Nadu team was excellent throughout the Games. "All they needed was a platform,” she stated. She also informed me that recently various programs have been launched to provide counselling, scholarships, and training to these children. "These programs and events not only build their sportsmanship but also boost their confidence and self esteem, giving them a sense of pride.", she added. While talking about the vision of Touching souls she said that their aim was to provide a platform to the tribal children to talk about their cultures and meet people from various tribal communities across India, to provide a sense of belongingness as they often live in alienation in the mainstream society.
Meanwhile, the tribal children in Bandalur were high on confidence after their win at the Delhi Games. 17-year-old C Vishnu from Guddat, who finished second in the 800m race, said, “We want to compete for more now. We also need a good ground to practice. These events give me the courage to think about our future generations participating in Olympics one day."
Sports, music and dance have been some of the important aspects of the tribal communities all over India. Hence excelling in these areas for the tribal population is not a far fetched dream. However, the lack of opportunities, platforms and awareness have been the blocking stones for them. Lack of infrastructure, accessibility and facilities have also affected the situation adversely. The poor socio-economic and political situation of the tribal population has kept them deprived of opportunities, despite their abilities to excel in the above mentioned areas. So it is high time for the government to turn their attention to the tribal population. Although, many non profit organizations have been working in this direction, the support of the state and the governments is important to concretize positive changes.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.