Saturday, Sep 23, 2023

Inspiring Contributions Of Tribal Players To Indian Hockey

Inspiring Contributions Of Tribal Players To Indian Hockey

Many tribal players in the country have come and gone, and one thing they have done successfully is leave a lasting mark on Indian hockey.

Jaipal Singh Munda led the Indian hockey team at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.
Jaipal Singh Munda led the Indian hockey team at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. Twitter/@TheHockeyIndia

The President of India, Droupadi Murmu, became only the second woman to hold the office and the first from the tribal community. (More Hockey News)

The role of the tribal community in India’s progress has been noteworthy. Their first contributions date back to before the 1857 revolution and ever since, they have excelled in different fields, including sports.

With the 15th edition of the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup around the corner, all eyes will be on India as the hosts. An 18-member Indian contingent, led by Harmanpreet Singh, was announced by Hockey India on December 23.

Indian hockey has seen many tribal stars. Names such as Dilip Tirkey, Birendra Lakra, Nikki Pradhan and Jaipal Singh Munda come to mind.
Jaipal Singh Munda was one of the nation’s first tribal sportspersons, and responsible for inspiring the generations to come. He was the captain of the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics team which won India’s first hockey gold. 

Jaipal Singh is also known to be a contributor towards the establishment of Mohun Bagan’s hockey team. After announcing his retirement from hockey, he served as Secretary of Bengal Hockey Association as well as a member of the Indian Sports Council.

Nikki Pradhan, India midfielder and the first female player from Jharkhand to represent the country in Olympics, spoke favourably about Jaipal Singh’s contributions. 

“Growing up, we heard about Jaipal Singh Munda, because of the game they used to hold to commemorate his birth anniversary on the 3rd of January every year. As the years went by, we learnt what a big leader he was and what he had done for us,” she said during an interview.

Savitri Purty, who represented the country from 1983 to 1990, saw Munda as a huge inspiration and reminisced how she dreamt of becoming like him. But there was more to that dream. “It wasn’t just to become like him on the hockey pitch. That was just a small part of it. The dream was to become someone who can inspire people outside of it,” she was quoted as saying.

With the regions of Jharkhand producing one stalwart after another, it was, however, surprising to see that the Indian women’s contingent for the 2022 Glasgow Commonwealth Games comprised not one player from the state. This was a first since 1983.

Being from tribal India, Purty spoke about why tribal women are suitable for sports. "Tribal women have athletic body structures due to long kilometres of walking for their daily needs. The game also proved an escape for us from our hardship. I started playing with a bamboo hockey stick and slippers," she said in an interview with Hindustan Times.

Such is the quality of hockey in Jharkhand that in June this year, five female players were selected for a sports and cultural exchange programme in the United States. They were selected as part of the East India Hockey Project, which works towards the empowerment of youth as well as the development in young female residents of Jharkhand.

Odisha, the host of the 2023 World Cup, is another Indian state famous for producing gems in the sport. Arguably, the most famous name is that of former Indian captain Dilip Tirkey, also known as ‘The Wall of Indian Hockey’.

Amit Rohidas, who comes from the Saunamara village in Sundergarh, the same as Tirkey, called him an ‘engineer of change’.

In an international career spanning 15 years, Tirkey experienced many firsts. He was the first player from Odisha to represent India in the Olympics (1996). He was also the first player from the state to captain an Indian hockey team. Furthermore, he is the only Adivasi player to have led India in three Olympic events, three World Cups and three Asian Games.

Dilip Tirkey’s father, Vincent Tirkey, was a state-level hockey player himself and responsible for the future India captain taking up the sport. His entry into the SAI hostel in Sundergarh (1989) changed not only Dilip’s fate but India’s as a whole.

In addition to Rohidas, many young hockey players in India admire Tirkey and aspire to achieve the same kind of legacy if not better. Dilip played a total of 412 matches for India before calling it a day. It is a record achievement for any Indian hockey player to this day.

Prabodh Tirkey, Lazarus Birla, Ignace Tirkey, Sunita Lakra, and Birendra Lakra are just some of the many names to come out of the tribal lands of Odisha in field hockey. And these won’t be the last.


Must Read