India’s medal rush at the ongoing Commonwealth Games in Delhi has mostly come from boxing and wrestling. Many athletes are from poor families in the northern state of Haryana, bordering Delhi.
India's Yogeshwar Dutt celebrates his gold medal in the men's freestyle wrestling competition
A little township 160 kilometers from Delhi is often referred to as 'Little Cuba'. Bhiwani has become a household name as India's boxing nursery and has thrown up many boxers and wrestlers who have done well at the Olympics.
Most of these boxers and wrestlers come from poor families and are children of bus drivers, conductors or marginal farmers. But the recognition given to these disciplines by the state government has propelled them to do well in international sports. With the medals coming in thick and fast, these could well turn out to be Haryana’s Commonwealth Games.
Keys to successs
India's Vijender Singh punches back at the Commonwealth Games
Sanjay Singh, the son of the legendary Indian boxer, Captain Hawa Singh, a two time Asian Games gold medalist and 11 time national champion, runs a boxing academy in Bhiwani. He says the boom of boxers and wrestlers is due to several factors.
"Their diet is good, the coaches are sincere and hardworking and this has contributed to the sport. Boxers and wrestlers also get good government jobs and prize money. So obviously the sport will grow," he explains.
Ranbir Singh Mann, a former legislator from Haryana, says the reasons have also to do with tradition. Since ancient times, people here have been fond of wrestling. "And because of the hardships and the atmosphere here, they organized melas (fairs) where wrestling always took place. The major game was wrestling," he adds.
There is no dearth of talent in traditional games in Haryana and even in the smallest of the villages of the state, the youth are highly enthusiastic about wrestling. Even female wrestlers from the area have made a mark by starting from the traditional wrestling in mud 'akhadas' or pits that have traditionally been a male domain.
Geeta displaying her gold medal in the 55 kg category women's wrestling contest
Wrestler Geeta, who won India’s first gold in the discipline in the 55-kilogram division in the ongoing Games, comes from Bhiwani. So do boxers such as Vijender Singh and Akhil Kumar, who have also won medals.
There are wrestling pits and boxing rings in many of the over 400 villages in Bhiwani. In every village, talents are encouraged.Some also believe athletes from Haryana are physically more robust. Many belong to the community of Jats, traditionally known for their fearlessness.
Joginder Singh, a wrestler, explains: "The real reason is we eat well and in time. Milk, butter and yogurt are our staple and that is why we produce such fine wrestlers. It is the rich home-made food that makes us strong. We practice a lot and concentrate well."
The popularity of both sports has prompted private companies to build new infrastructure in the last two years, which includes international standard rings and state-of-the-art boxing arenas furnished with adequate facilities.
With more medals expected in the coming days, this tiny state of Haryana could well become the pride of the whole country.
Author: Murali Krishnan (Bhiwani, Haryana)
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein