There is a Hindu amongst the Birsa Munda Vidyapitha, Rourkela, team which made it to the final of the Nehru sub-junior hockey tournament on Wednesday. But you wouldn't be able to tell who he is. As the boy approaches, a cross and an image of Jesus can be seen on his chest, between the pink and green of his jersey.
"I don't mind, in the team we are together and we pray together," Suraj Singh, 13, told HT. In a region known for sectarian violence between Hindus and Christians, the community spirit is a welcome change. Captain, Sumit Toppo, 14, pointed to Suraj as the only Hindu in the squad of Christians, which hails from the Sports Hostel, Rourkela.
"We pray in the morning, before each match and in the evening," said Toppo, a Roman Catholic.
"At home we worship Lord Shiva, but in the team we pray to Jesus. My parents don't mind… there's never been any trouble in the team," said Suraj.
"I do not lead them into prayer, they organize it themselves and there has never been any tension over religion," says coach, Bizay Kumarlakar, also a Roman Catholic.
Depending on the outcome of the final against the Government Model Senior School, Jalandhar, the players could win Rs 6000 or 4000.
The money will be a boost for the boys, who would have been into farming, had they not been selected to play hockey. Asked what they would do with the money, the boys were united in reply — to buy more hockey gear. Clearly the team, not religion, is the priority for these boys.