The air doesn’t smell of gunpowder but the presence of paramilitary troops suggests peace is still some time away from Jangalmahal, the area in western West Bengal that has been in the grip of Maoist insurgency in the last two years.
An army of over 300 teenagers though presented a very different picture on Tuesday. They had gathered from nearby areas for the 10-day coaching camp organised by the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) to help children channel their energy in the game India are one-day world champions in.
The camp was inaugurated by National Cricket Academy director Sandeep Patil and Dav Whatmore, who is the director of CAB’s youth development programme. The trainees enrolled were listed by nine police stations under the Jhargram sub-division and received free kits.
Many trainees are from Lalgarh, the epicentre of the insurgency. “We had often been forced to attend meetings and rallies organised by the Maoists,” said a boy, whose name is being withheld to protect him. “Things are better but not fully normal yet,” said the aspiring batsman.
For someone like Subhankar Kundu, who is from Salboni, the sound of gunshots is still fresh in memory. “Our family wasn’t affected, but there used to be firing at nights. I hope this programme will help me realise my dream of playing cricket in Kolkata.”
The infrastructure here is archaic. The ground hosting the camp is in bad shape because of the rains and there are just two matting wickets. Given that the camp has attracted over 300 enthusiasts, this is inadequate, but the CAB’s focus is currently on diverting the attention of the youth to sports.
Locals seemed to have bought the idea. “If kids grow up in an atmosphere of unrest, they too will become part of it because for them, there is no alternative. If they are encouraged to play cricket with proper guidance, they will find out life is not all about violence,” said Basudeb Ghosh, a railways employee.
Debnath Das, a private tutor, offered a different take. “Cricket will not solve all our problems, but it will definitely help the kids pursue a career. This game has worked wonders in the lives of youngsters all over the country. This area was lagging because there was no exposure. This camp will at least give them some guidance.”
Manipur trying to overcome problems of drugs and insurgency by encouraging sport, the state government trying to keep underprivileged children on the right side of the law through a football camp set to start in Kolkata on Wednesday are more instances of using sport as a tool for social welfare.
Westwood, Clarke to lead challenge
World No. 2 Lee Westwood and British Open champion Darren Clarke will lead the Britain and Ireland team in next week’s Seve Trophy match against continental Europe, organisers said on Tuesday. World No. 18 Ian Poulter is also in the side captained by Ireland’s Paul McGinley who will defend the trophy they won two years ago in Paris. reuters