Raipur: In what appears to be a case of institutional discrimination, two “upper” caste sports coaches from the National Sports Academy in Bijapur district, Bastar division of Chhattisgarh, abused and beat five Adivasi children who had accused them of a lackadaisical attitude towards training and who completely stopped training children.
The incident that happened on January 4 highlights the casteist and racist persecution of Indian society Adivasis and also the institutional discrimination of the administration against them since no action has been taken against these coaches so far and the training of these children has stopped, the district administration going as far as lock gym doors.
Some of the children involved in the incident had been selected for the Khelo India Youth Games to be held in Haryana, the dates of which have been postponed and not yet decided, and training for these games was their top priority. When the two coaches, Suraj Gupta and Prakarsh Rao, refused to coach them on the grounds that a lockdown had been imposed, the athletes accused the coaches of being lax in their duties.
“I pointed out to our coaches that since they only come to train towards the end of the sessions, they don’t provide much training anyway,” said Onish Kodiam, a 17-year-old national judoka from of the Muria Tribe. “In response, the karate trainer said that we should be disciplined first, but he was chewing tobacco while he was talking and the tobacco was dripping from his mouth. This made Aniram, my fellow athlete, smile. coach saw this, he started yelling at us and hitting us.
Only school and sport can occupy the children of the Bastar region and keep them away from the Maoist organisations. But the administration’s skewed mindset and negligent attitude could alienate even those interested in the sport.
the Adivasis or members of tribal communities have always been used as pawns, both by the administration and by the Naxalites. On the one hand, the government, supposed to educate the tribal communities, deceived them in the name of development and gave them weapons to use against the Naxalites. On the other hand, the Naxalites fired the Adivasi children away from school and armed them to fight the administration.
The Salwa Judum movement launched in 2005 was a state-sponsored death trap into which many members of tribal communities were deliberately pushed, while many others were displaced. The family of Aniram Korsa, 18, one of the children involved in the incident at the sports academy on January 4, has been forced to leave Mankeli village in Bijapur and move to the settlement of Shivirpara after members of the Salwa Judum looted houses in their village. In 2016, the Naxalites broke into their house and killed Aniram’s father, accusing him of being a police informant. Aniram turned to sports in 2017 and started training as a karate player.
In 2022, Aniram, a member of the Muria tribe, had his first opportunity to compete at the national level when he and six other Adivasi children have been chosen to participate in a national karate championship in Gujarat. The seven young people concerned are currently residing at the Bijapur sports academy hostel and train twice a day for their competition.
As Aniram is the only member of his family to earn a living and he has two brothers, a sister and his mother to support, he drives a rickshaw every other day to supplement his income. But if the young man is happy to have received permission to park his car inside the inn, he is worried about his training since the karate and judo halls of the sports academy have been closed.
“Our sports coaches don’t care about us,” Aniram said Thread. “They sometimes visit the academy drunk and abuse our mothers and sisters. They don’t pay attention to our training either. After beating us on January 4, both coaches bragged that not even a leaf fell without their consent. When we went to Bijapur police station, we were pressured not to file a written complaint. The assistant receiver, who is currently in charge of the neighborhood sports academy, also told us that we should have approached him before going to the police.
Aniram, Onish and the other sports academy judo and karate athletes have spent the last few weeks trying to persuade Amar Nath Yogi, the district deputy collector, to unlock the karate and judo gymnasiums and appoint a new coach.
But Yogi says Thread that is impossible at the moment. “A new coach cannot be appointed now as we have just appointed a coach for swimming and archery,” said the assistant collector. “The judo and karate training halls also cannot be opened as equipment worth between Rs 15 and Rs 20 lakhs is kept there. Who will keep it?
When the athletes assured Yogi that they would personally move the equipment to another room and lock it, the assistant catcher claimed that since the gymnasium in question was where, according to the complaint, the children were beaten by coaches, it cannot be opened until the police investigate the case.
However, both athletes and Adivasi society as a whole wonders how the police can carry out an investigation without a recorded first information report. “Police officials simply took a written complaint from us,” they said.
Even a written complaint may or may not exist. Shashikant Bhardwaj, the Police Station Officer of Bijapur Police Station, said Thread that he received no complaints about the coaches and suggested that it might be with the Azad police station instead.
Signs of prejudice
According to the sports academy athletes, the two coaches involved in the January 4 incident had displayed distinctly casticultural and racist attitudes since their appointments four years ago.
Athletes tell Thread whose coaches had abused Adivasi the girls on earlier occasions used slurs like “Gond” and “Muria” and often hit them with belts. They had even expelled some of the kids from the sports academy even though no coach has the authority to do such a thing. The athletes claim that both coaches were appointed under contract but have remained at the academy for the past four years.
“I was expelled from the academy in 2020 by Suraj Gupta who called me a naxalite,” said Mukesh Karti, Dorla community member and state-level judo player. “When I posted a photo of my brother wearing a police uniform on a messaging app, Suraj Gupta told me that I was a Naxalite and not even fit to play. One day he told me he was giving me three days notice to leave the academy or else I would be expelled.
Suraj Gupta is a resident of Bhilai district. The sports academy athletes allege that Gupta made derogatory remarks towards them, telling them that they joined the academy only for the free meals. Gupta also often compared Adivasi sportsmen to those of Bhilai. Bhilai, sometimes referred to as the sports capital of Chhattisgarh, has high-tech training equipment and people from wealthy families pay high fees to train in private facilities. Bhilai athletes have no health issues, which is a major concern in Adivasi areas.
According to the athletes, Bhuvan Nage, the former academy coach, trained them well and paid attention to their health. Under Suraj Gupta, they claim, they are only given one egg in their meals a day and only served chicken once a week.
“Judo is a sport of endurance and strength while karate is a sport of speed and agility,” Bhuvan Nage said. Thread. “For both sports, extra nutrition is extremely important. I had done a complete diet chart which included two eggs a day. Now they only get one egg. Before any event, I bought some boxes of protein worth between Rs 3,500 and Rs 5,500 from my own salary for athletes Even though the Sports Authority of India has allocated Rs 5,500 per month to be spent on food for each player, our children receive food worth 700 rupees. In such a situation, how will they be able to face their opponents?
Nage believes that if the academy provided better nutrition, its athletes could do wonders. “When children work so hard even in the absence of a proper diet, imagine how much they could accomplish if they were well nourished!” Nage said. “Mukesh Karti was an excellent athlete, but his low weight for his age causes him a lot of problems.”
Mukesh Karti, who was ‘expelled’ from the academy in 2020, is a 21-year-old judoka who must weigh 65kg to compete in national senior-level competitions. But it weighs only 49 kg at present. “I don’t know how to add the 16 kg I need,” said Karti Thread.
Nage, who works with the police, claims to have been the person who started the sports academy in Bijapur. “The Naxalites gave me a warning twice to scare me away,” he said. Thread. “Suraj Gupta and Prakarsh Rao were my students and I had recommended them for the job, but they conspired against me and got me fired. Even now, when athletes have filed complaints, I have been accused of inciting them.
During this time, the Adivasi Bijapur society waits for the government to act against Gupta and Rao. “No matter who the coaches are or where they are from, they have no right to denigrate and abuse children,” said Sarv Adivasi Samaj District Chairman Ashok Talandi. “If the government does not take action against them, then the Adivasi the company will hold a protest in accordance with COVID-19 protocols.
Shubham Tigga is a Chhattisgarh-based freelance journalist who reports on issues related to Adivasi communities in the state.