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Sunday, 27 December 2015
In this Haryana village hit by caste violence, sport bridges the gap
Wrestlers during a training session at the Shaheed Bhagat Singh International wrestling academy, Mirchpur in Hisar district
The village has come to be linked to that horrific incident five years ago when a 70-year-old Dalit and his physically-challenged daughter were burnt alive. Now, sport is healing the wounds of this Haryana village scarred by caste violence.
Gun-toting paramilitary personnel can be seen guarding village posts round the clock --- a reminder of the infamy the village was engulfed in when more than a dozen Dalit houses were torched by a group from the Jat community on April 21, 2010.
Today, the village is redeeming itself through wrestling. The rural sport has rekindled the flame of brotherhood between the communities and turned the village’s negative image around.
The Shaheed Bhagat Singh International Wrestling Academy that came into existence two years after the incident has managed to bridge the gap between the communities. In the last three-and-a-half years, the academy has produced around 30 national players, including 10 medallists and six internationals. The centre houses 80 wrestlers from different communities.
Impressed by the results and training facilities, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) has taken the centre under its wings and is providing diet and kit to 20 of its trainees.
Wrestlers train at the Shaheed Bhagat Singh International wrestling academy, Mirchpur in Hisar district.
“The incident tarnished the image of the village to an extent it is impossible to avoid reference to it whenever the name of the village comes up. But with our wrestlers making an impression on the national and international stage, the village is getting a positive name,” says former national-level wrestler Ajay Dhanda, who played a key role in the establishment of the akhara.
Overwhelmed by the events of April 21, Dhanda decided to take the sports route to bridge the communal divide. “It seemed that we were left with nothing good to show after the episode. It used to disturb me, and then a thought crossed my mind that we should do something to restore brotherhood and improve the image of the village,” recalls Dhanda.
CRPF personnel guarding the post in village Mirchpur, Hisar.
“Around 100 youth from the village were sent to Tihar Jail after the episode, and it was a matter of time before they returned and became a negative influence. Sport is the best way to keep the young generation away from drugs and crime.”
In 2012, like-minded people opened the wrestling academy and also made provision for a hostel. “Today, our centre is spoken of highly whenever the name of Mirchpur comes up,” says Dhanda, who left his job in Haryana Police to coach kids.
“We have come a long way from where we were five years back,” says the coach alluding to the violence, which saw 18 Dalit houses torched. As many as 97 youth from the Jat community were put behind bars. Later, 82 of them were let off for want of evidence.
“We have youth from Jat and Dalit families staying and training together. Things have improved and sport is playing a vital role,” says Ramphal, one of the six coaches, who is from the Dalit community.
For 22-year-old Virender Singh, whose cousin spent one-and-a-half-years in Tihar, the incident is behind him and “there is no ill-feeling among families”. “We hope in future we will be recognised as a village of world-class wrestlers,” he says.
Today, kids from other villages, and places as far as Rajasthan, are enrolling at the centre, which has become sought after in the region. “Earlier, my parents were hesitant about sending me to the Mirchpur akhara. But once they visited the centre, their perception changed,” said Vishal of Dhanoli Village in Jind district.
This year, Hardeep, a trainee at the centre who won the Commonwealth Championships bronze last year, was in the India team for the World Championships in Las Vegas.
“We not only teach the art of wrestling, but also give importance to education and character building. It is compulsory for trainees to attend school,” says Dhanda, who is building a new wrestling hall and hostel on his own land.
Next year, when Aamir Khan’s movie Dangal, based on the life of Mahavir Singh, father of wrestlers Geeta and Babita Phogat, is released, the Mirchpur akhara will have its presence on the big screen as well. Two of the trainees will feature in the film and three coaches from the centre will be seen as match referees. Ajay, one of the coaches, trained the girls playing the roles of Geeta and Babita.