Needed better sports infrastructure, not reservation for tribals
By Bhogtoram Mawroh
Some days ago, there was a demand made by the Khasi Students Union that there should be 100% reservation for Khasi-Jaintia and Garo athletes in all sports teams representing Meghalaya. Specifically, the Meghalaya Cricket Association and Meghalaya Basketball Association were mentioned by the pressure group. I have a very close association with one of the sports mentioned, cricket. I played the game at a semi-professional level for many years. I played for my locality, Nongmynsong, and then played for United XI, with whom I won the Super Division twice and was selected for the Shillong district team that won the state district championship.I was supposed to play in a district tournament in Assam but I could not for some unavoidable reasons. But, after I started on my PhD, I could not give much time to the game, although I did play a little for the university.
I am not one to brag, but I was a pretty good player. In fact, the team I played for had two cricketers who had played at the national level. Mark Ingty (a Karbi) was the opening bowler. A little wayward in the early overs once he got his rhythm, he was a wonderful bowler. Mark became famous for taking the wicket of Sourav Ganguly when he was playing for Assam in the Ranji Trophy. Then there was JJ Lamare, who also played for Assam and, if I am not mistaken, was selected for the Duleep Trophy as well. During one of our get-togethers somebody was telling him how he could actually be a good option as an all-rounder for the Indian team. Of course, that never happened but those were the days when we still had dreams.
There was Asa Warjri, who was a gentleman and the late Maw, who was rough on the outside but a very kind person on the inside. Maw was one of the best footballers at one point of time and was in the same camp with Renedy Singh. He would tell stories of how they were mistreated for being from the North East. While Renedy persisted and became a legend in Indian football, Maw came back and did his all to intimidate the local batsmen. Players were truly scared of him. Mark Ingty was quicker in the air but Maw would hit the gloves really hard (I was the first-choice wicket-keeper of the team). And he had a beautiful out-swinger. My favourite player, however, was someone who was known for being the laziest in the squad. His name was Bishan Thapa.
It was Bishan who invited me to play for United XI and he was a good friend both on and off the field. But he was lazy as hell. When he ran it seemed like he was posing for a photo shoot with hips swaying in both directions as if he was running in slow motion. He was the opening batsman and a spin bowler. Keeping wicket to him was fun because he never really turned the ball much. Believe it or not, he was also the state badminton champion. How he managed that with the poor work ethic we saw on the cricket field is beyond me.Bishan is a Nepali born and brought up in Shillong, i.e., he is a local. But he was not the only one. We also had Purojit and Surojit (Bengali brothers) who played for (if I am not mistaken) Royal CC, who were United XI’s fierce rivals. Both were really good batsmen and, from what I hear, musicians. Music and bhadralok Bengali go hand in hand, so I am not surprised. Then there was Nikhelish (or was it Nitesh) and the two Nepali bowlers who were really quick. One of the Nepali bowlers I believe had a suspect action and the other bowled like Lasith Malinga. I can say with pride that neither of them got me out.
My biggest competitor was this wicketkeeper, I forget the name, who was a Muslim. Now that I am no longer playing, I have no qualms in admitting that he was a better keeper than I. My other competitors were a Nepali and a Khasi wicket-keeper. Both, I believe, were selected for Meghalaya later on. I did not play much against Raj Biswa but he was around when I was playing. He was a really good batsman and played for Tripura where he scored big runs. Two seasons ago he was a leading figure in the Meghalaya team. Non-tribals in Meghalaya cricket have a very long history. I know that because I was part of it. But the presence of non-tribals is not limited to cricket.
At one point of time, I was into taekwondo and I participated in a regional tournament in Tezpur and a national tournament in Shillong. I was not a very good fighter and I remember one particular fight where I was kicked so many times in the face that I had to apply a hot towel after the bout. But I am proud to say I won two fights in my life, one with an injured leg. One thing I noticed was that the majority of fighters and instructors were non-tribals, mostly Nepali and Bihari. In fact, the pioneer of taekwondo in Meghalaya was Luthre Lohar, a Nepali, who was 7th Dan black belt. He passed away recently, which was a big loss to the taekwondo fraternity. My only regret is that I could not meet him in person. I was so much into martial arts that at one point I thought I would get my black belt and start my own club.
Another sport in which I tried my hand at was football. In my college I was the goalkeeper of the class. I also kept goal for my locality during a local shoot-out tournament as well. One thing which was very clear with football was that there were no non-tribals in the team. When we look at the Meghalaya team this becomes a little more striking as only Khasi players make up the side. But it does not mean that there are no non-tribals at all. When my friend, Rev Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh, reminisces about football of the past, he will list non-tribal players who were really good. Even now there are some who are playing the game. Padam Chettri is the best goalkeeper in Meghalaya, at least the last time I saw him play. In fact, he has been playing for the state team for some time now.
From all that I have shared there are some important points that emerge. Non-tribals have contributed a lot to sports in the state. They did not wander in from outside the state but were born and brought up here. The demand by the KSU that only tribals should represent Meghalaya is unfair, since it will deprive the state of this local talent.What would be more useful is to put pressure on the state government to improve sports facilities in Meghalaya. Since more than 80% of the population is tribal, if the sports situation improves, by default a lot of the athletes who will benefit will be tribals. But if infrastructure and other elements are not improved then it will not matter if we have 100% reservation.
Coming back to football, where the overwhelming majority of players are tribals and Khasis in particular, the KSU should find out how much players in the lower leagues are paid. What happens to them if they get injured and their careers are stalled? First Ground in Polo is still not complete and games are being played in horrendous conditions when it rains.One day I hope to see an athlete from Meghalaya win a medal in the Olympics, preferably someone from the Pynursla region. Will asking for 100% reservation accomplish that? No!
I believe our tribal athletes are as good as anyone, provided they receive the appropriate support. Since we are a tribal majority state, we don’t need reservation. If this was the mainland, I can understand the demand. With the discrimination against low castes and tribals rampant in the mainland, they would need reservation. Here we should be demanding vociferously that sports in Meghalaya should be encouraged and improved by getting the best facilities for our athletes. Scouting should be improved to source talent that lies hidden in many of our villages. But, at the same time, eligible non-tribals should be allowed to showcase their talent and bring laurels to the state. Only then can we become a sporting powerhouse in the country.
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