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Saurabh Duggal, Hindustan Times
Chandigarh, September 18, 2013
A day after teenager Amit Kumar won silver at the ongoing World Wrestling Championships in Hungary, India added a bronze to their kitty with another 19-year-old Bajrang winning bronze in the 60kg freestyle category. Bajrang lost to Vladimir Vladimirov Dubov of Bulgaria, the eventual silver medallist, but came back strongly in the repechage.

After learning wrestling in the akharas of Khudan in Jhajjar district of Haryana, Bajrang had joined the Chhatarsal centre under Satpal.

In the absence of the Olympic stars Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt, who are both injured but travelled with the team to Budapest, the teenagers have stepped up to portray a bright side of Indian wrestling. In fact, Bajrang was the replacement for Yogeshwar and has been his roommate in the tournament.

This success has once again highlighted the role played by akharas in grooming talent in the country.

Indian wrestling is totally dependent on this traditional training system as all top wrestlers, including Sushil and Yogeshwar, and 2009 World Championships medallist Ramesh Kumar are products of these centres.

However, not every wrestler in other akharas is as lucky as Amit, who, after spending his initial years in a centre in Sonepat, Haryana, shifted to Satpal’s akhara in Chhatrasal Stadium.

Since Sushil’s rise to stardom with the 2008 Olympic bronze medal, wrestlers at the Chhatrasal centre get top facilities, including air-conditioned accommodation. In contrast, trainees even in Sports Authority of India-adopted akharas are struggling to get basic facilities, forced to spend from their pockets in their bid to become top-class wrestlers.

Decade-old scheme

Considering the country’s rich akhara culture, SAI came up with a scheme in 2003 to adopt top akharas. However, despite Indian wrestling moving forward, the scheme itself seems to be withering away.

Under the project, akharas were provided with a coach, wrestling mat and multi-gym. The wrestlers were also given a monthly stipend of R1000 towards meeting expenses for extra diet.

Currently, there are 31 SAI-adopted akharas in which around 500 wrestlers receive stipend. The facility is restricted to wrestlers in the 8 to 14 age group but they can receive support until they turn 19 if they continue to produce results.

But even after a decade, SAI has not revised the scheme. And the gyms provided to akharas are old and falling apart and SAI has not bothered to replace them.