When it comes to sports, India does not have a shortage of skill and spirit. It has always been the lack of platforms to launch sporting talent. When I was a young girl, I had dreams too, but I also understood that without a launch pad, they would just remain dreams. That’s where Khelo India has been making a difference.
In 2018, sports minister Anurag Thakur launched Khel Mahakumbh in Himachal Pradesh to improve and foster the state’s grassroots sports culture and infrastructure. But it has since expanded to villages in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. My extensive research on the subject revealed that at least 200 MPs were holding this Khel Mahakumbh in their respective constituencies.
The dreams of young women from low and middle-income families gain momentum with such initiatives. Scholarships aren’t easy to come by, and we have to work twice as hard to grab the opportunities we deserve. These struggles intensify when it comes to traditionally male-dominated arenas such as sports. For many, dangal (wrestling) may be inspiring, but for girls, their parents’ struggle—even in the movie Dangal (2016)—is enough to deter them from their dreams.
Khelo India powering many young dreams
After Beti bachao, Beti Padhao, the Narendra Modi government is taking a step forward with Khelo India. Last month, during my reporting trip to Gujarat and Bihar, I witnessed a yearning among young sportswomen to make the most of this opportunity.
“I like to run, but my parents were not supportive. When someone in school told me about Khelo India, I told my family I would also participate. After some difficulty, my father agreed,” says 15-year-old athlete Mala, who didn’t even have enough money to buy a basic running tracksuit.
Mala is from Ramnagar in Bihar. She dreams of becoming a sprinter but cannot pursue her calling without guidance and support. Young women like Mala are often left behind in school competitions, where the administration generally does not support females picking a sport of their choice.
In February, Khushi Kumari from Bihar’s Danapur won the Khelo India gold medal in weightlifting and was given Rs 10,000 as prize money. Kumari used it to fulfil her long-standing desire to buy shoes. A fruit seller’s daughter, she had contended in shoes borrowed from friends. But this wasn’t the first time she participated in a Khelo India competition—Kumari had also taken part in a Khelo India contest in Indore last year, where she finished fourth.
In Bihar—where political debates are often stuck on basic facilities—the Nitish Kumar government plans to open Khelo India centres in 33 districts. Here, young players will get equipment for better training. Moreover, each centre will be given Rs 5 lakh annually to maintain facilities.
What Khelo India means to me
My childhood was spent in Najafgarh, located on the outskirts of Delhi. Despite the proximity, I saw that the capital remained a distant dream for most young women from the area. Now, female players from remote regions of Kashmir and Ladakh are also getting an opportunity to display their talent and better their situation. Witnessing this evolution is heartening, to say the least.
As a 7-year-old, I saw my family struggling to make ends meet. For us, a dream could only be realised in sleep—there was no chance of it ever coming true. We didn’t know about the reverie of life or the ambitions people strive to achieve. I never expected such avenues to open for me. “Wo log aur hote hain, jinko wo mauke milte hain (the people who get such opportunities are rare),” I often thought to myself. And then, as India slowly transcended into the internet era, I got the chance to become a journalist—and an English one at that. Now, I was part of the “wo log jo aur hote hain” club. And that’s how I understood the power of getting a platform.
While reporting from the hinterlands of Gujarat, Haryana, UP, Bihar and Jharkhand, I searched for platforms available for youth in rural areas. And that’s when I discovered Khelo India, The Indian Premier League of dreams for India’s rural youth, particularly its young women.
In Khelo India Dus Ka Dum, a tournament launched on Women’s Day this year, 10 different sports competitions were organised in 10 areas across India. These contests will be held till 31 March and will see the participation of 15,000 women
The best part about Khelo India is that it includes and highlights games relegated to the sidelines by mainstream media. It has brought unique Indian sports to the forefront, which is commendable.
In 2020, when Khelo India Youth Games were held in Assam’s Guwahati, it had 20 sports. Five more sports – gatka, kalaripayattu, thang-ta, mallakhamb and yog asana – were added to the programme in 2021, taking the list to 25. In 2022, water sports – canoeing, kayaking and rowing – were added to the list, taking the tally to 27.
(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)