At the age of 13, Vijai Kumar wasn’t sure of archery as a career choice, his family, after all, was reeling under acute poverty. Kumar often used to lend a hand to his father, a labourer. But archery is a family tradition. It shielded the family from animals in the Maoist-affected Gaiyabithan village, in Sonebhadra district of UP, and also helped them ward off enemies.
Things started changing for Kumar in 2010 when he was selected to the only government-run archery hostel, Vishisth hostel in Tiara village.
Even though he faced problems in handling the modern bow and arrow, Kumar managed to win bronze for India at the Asian Archery Open Taipei Tournament early this year. “I had no idea that archery could change my life one day. The medal at the Asian meet has given a new direction to my life. I believe that the next generation in my family would not face hardships,” Vijay, now 18, told HT.
Like Kumar, another hostel archer, Atul Verma, son of a farmer in Barabanki village, won a bronze medal at the 2014 Youth Olympics at Nanjing in China. Had his father Ram Gopal Verma not borrowed money, on steep interest, to buy a bow and arrow, Verma would not have achieved this. He had also bagged medals in Turkey and Asian Grand Prix Championships in Taiwan.
Since 2007, the 20-odd boarders of the hostel have so far won over 100 medals at the state level and between 15 and 20 medals at the national level. Other medal winners include Avadh Narain, Balaji Yadav, Devesh Chaturvedi, Sandeep Kumar Nishad, Satya Prakash, Sandeep Kumar, Ram Lal, Mudit Kumar Anand, Om Prakash, Ram Sagar, Vijai Kumar, Kapil Kumar Verma and Milind Kumar Anand. All hail from Naxalites-affected areas.
“The sport has diverted the attention of youth in the areas. More and more youngsters are attending annual trials as they find it the best way to live a respectful life,” Sonebhadra’s sports officer, AK Pandey told HT. “Besides providing them with all facilities, the government is also ensuring their education in schools affiliated to the UP Board,” he said.
He said the annual fee of Rs 2,500 per archer is being paid for by Lenco Power Project (Anpara) as many find it difficult to cough up that amount. “Success enables players from these regions to get jobs and thus their problem of roti, kapda and makaan is solved. The lure of job is the primary reason why the youngsters are joining sports hostels,” said coach Ashok Yadav, who is employed here on an ad-hoc basis.
Such is the lure of archery in this region that a four-day camp conducted by an NGO, Seva Samarpan Sansthan, at Bhabhni saw over 100 participants this year. Financial situation at the hostel were not as good as it is today though. The winners at trials-cum-selection event got transistors and utensils as awards when the hostel started functioning in 2006-07.
However, officials of Northern Coalfields Limited (Singrauli), the then district magistrate Pandhari Yadav and district archery association’s secretary Balram Krishna Yadav ensured the hostel had better infrastructure and equipment. The boarders started with just one international standard bow and arrow. Later, NCL sponsored five bows. The state government has assured them an additional five soon.
“No one was ready to sponsor us modern bow and arrow in the beginning as everyone wanted our archers to win a medal at the national level first. It took us almost a year to win a medal at Vijayawada nationals and then things started falling in line,” said Yadav.
Taking note of the success of archers from the hostel, Northern Coalfields has signed a memorandum of understanding with the state government to open an exclusive archery academy on the stadium premises. As many as 20 archers, including 10 girls, all from the Naxalites-affected tribal areas of Sonebhadra, would be admitted to the new academy.
“NCL has agreed to take care of financial aspects of the game (around Rs 30 lakh per year), whereas the sports department will take care of the administrative matters,” said Pandey. He believes it will give the hostel archers a chance to prepare better for future events. The dormitory meant for girls is likely to be used as the academy.
Pandey said that the construction of archery shade (worth Rs 2 crore) by the state government at the stadium would help the venue host national and international events. “The district administration has promised to establish adequate approach road soon so that there would be no problem in inviting top international archers for events here,” he said.