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Rajdeep Sardesai
Friday , October 22, 2010 at 10 : 42

Rajdeep Sardesai's blog: A level playing field


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It's been called the 'Jatification' of Indian sport. There were 50 Jats in the Indian contingent at the Commonwealth Games and they won 27 of India's 101 medals, or more than a fourth. If you count the four Jats in the hockey team, then actually 31 of the 50 players won medals. While Jat men have been traditional powerhouses in sports like wrestling, it's the emergence of the Jat woman, exemplified by discus thrower Krishna Poonia, who won the country's first track and field gold in 52 years and Mandeep Kaur and Manjeet Kaur who won the 4x400m relay which suggests a real breakthrough moment.

Jat-dominated Haryana, after all, is still a state with one of the worst sex ratios in the country. The state which had only 805 females per 1,000 males in 2001 showed some improvement while notching up a tally of 850 females per 1,000 males in 2009. Gurgaon and Faridabad two of the most economically developed districts recorded striking improvement in the sex ratio in the 0-6 years category. But as the recent khap controversy has shown, the social milieu of Haryana has been resistant to change, caught between caste traditions and ersatz modernity. Is sports then an opportunity for Haryana to bury the stereotype?

Social scientists will point to a co-relation between community, environment and sporting success. The Masai tribesmen put Kenya on the world map with their natural aptitude as steeplechasers and middle-distance runners. The Ethiopian tribes became renowned marathon runners. Runners of West African descent - be they from Jamaica or the United States - are born to run fast. Perhaps, we now need to consider that the muscular Jats are built to wrestle or throw the discus (not to forget cricket too, blessed by the original Jat sporting icon, Kapil Dev Nikhanj, unarguably India's finest fast bowler, and now by Virender Sehwag, the most destructive opening batsman the country has produced).

But the Jat success story in sports may have less to do with community and more to do with the emergence of a new India which is cutting through traditional hierarchies, and moving beyond the metropolitan mindset into smaller towns. Chak De and Bunty aur Babli creator Jaideep Sahni has coined the term, 'India A, B and C' to mirror this change. Wrote Sahni, "The way I see it there's an India A, India B and India C. India A is us, we've come from pretty privileged backgrounds, we are the top one per cent in terms of resources. India B is the India of 'Bunty aur Babli', who sees us on cable and wants to be like that. Then, there's India C, the tribals we used to watch dancing with Indira Gandhi when we were kids."

While India C remains deprived, the Commonwealth Games success suggests that India B has well and truly arrived on the sports field. One doesn't have exact figures, but it would be a reasonable assumption that more than 80 per cent of our medal winners come from India B: small-town people with big hearts, and a driving ambition to succeed at all costs. Then, whether it is a Rahi Sarnobat, the teenage shooting sensation from Kolhapur, or Ashish Kumar, the first medal winning gymnast from Allahabad, there is little doubt that the real energy of Indian sport is coming from outside the big cities.

The era of the elite clubs and gymkhanas has slowly come to an end, with tennis perhaps the sole exception. The privileged children of India A are too effete to survive in the highly competitive world of sport. By contrast, the vaulting aspirations of India B and their tough growing up years have enabled them to thrive in a similar environment. We've seen this 'democratisation' of sport already take place in cricket where the dominance of the urban, upper middle-class cricketer has given way to the spectacular rise of the small-town boys, be it an MS Dhoni from Ranchi, a Harbhajan from Jalandhar or a Zaheer Khan from Shrirampur. It should come as no surprise that India's ascent to the number one test spot has coincided with the emergence of the India B boys in the national team.

In a sense, sports, with the premium it places on merit, has provided a passport to India B to somehow gatecrash into the India A party. In the first thirty years after Independence, India A zealously guarded its elite status, be it in politics, business or sport. This was the Nehruvian era of the old school tie and Oxbridge alumni societies. Some of those cosy networks still survive, with patronage distributed to friends and cronies (witness the way in which the CWG organising committee was populated with relatives of key members).

And yet, there are unmistakeable signs of change. The green revolution and the rise of the middle peasant castes broke the Brahminical domination over politics, even if it created new power elites. Economic liberalization by removing the licence-permit raj opened a window of opportunity for first-generation entrepreneurs. And now it seems that the investment in sports academies in smaller towns (we still need many more) is finally creating the basis for a sporting revolution.

Ironically, one of the few professions resistant to change has been journalism. For decades, a tiny, anglicized elite dominated the profession. How many Dalits, or for that matter Jats, have become editors and anchors? Perhaps, the remarkable growth of the regional media, print and television, offers some hope that even journalism will transform itself and reflect the spirit of a new India.    

Post-script: The Jat tally at the CWG was almost matched by the armed forces who won 25 medals, including ten golds. It is not only a tribute to the sports infrastructure provided by the forces to its personnel, but importantly, confirmation that the men in uniform, like sports itself, respect merit and human endeavour.


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More about Rajdeep Sardesai

Rajdeep Sardesai was the Editor-in-Chief, IBN18 Network, that includes CNN-IBN, IBN 7 and IBN Lokmat. He has 22 years of journalistic experience during which he has covered some of the biggest stories in India and the world. Prior to setting up the IBN network, he was the Managing Editor of both NDTV 24X7 and NDTV India and was responsible for overseeing the news policy for both the channels. He has also worked with The Times of India for six years and was the city editor of its Mumbai edition at the age of 26. During the last 22 years, he has covered major national and international stories, specialising in national politics. He has won numerous other awards for journalistic excellence, including the prestigious Padma Shri for journalism in 2008, the International Broadcasters Award for coverage of the 2002 Gujarat riots and the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award for 2007. He has won the Asian Television Award for best talk show for the Big Fight on two occasions and his current flagship show on CNN-IBN, India at 9, has been awarded the best news show at the Asian awards for the last two years. He has been News Anchor of the year at the Indian Television Academy for seven of the last eight years and won more than 50 awards in this period. He has also been the President of the Editors Guild of India, the only television journalist to hold the post and was chosen a Global leader for tomorrow by the world economic forum in 2000. An alumni of St Xavier's College, Mumbai, he has done his Masters and LLB from Oxford University and has also played first class cricket for the Oxford University team. He has contributed to several books and writes a fortnightly column that appears in seven newspapers.
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