India’s newest judo hub is — believe it or not — 270km south-west of Chandigarh and in the premises of a religious sect, Dera Sacha Sauda, here.
Five in the contingent of 16 which took part in the 3rd Youth and 10th junior Asian Judo Championships, in Lebanon last month, were from this sect and they won four of India’s eight medals.
Dera judokas Anup (bronze in junior boys’ section) and Balwinder (silver in the youth competition) won India’s only medals in the boys’ category. Rekha and Naveen bagged a bronze each in the junior girls’ section.
All five —Rekha (19), Naveen (17), Anup (18), Rajinder (20) and Balwinder (16) — go only by first names and are students of the Dera-owned educational institutes. So far, 10 judokas from this sect have represented India.
“The values of the Dera is the main motivation behind making the centre into a judo hub and it’s because of our Guruji Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s blessings that we are able to achieve the international glory,” said Rekha, who finished third in the 70kg category.
Rekha, a second year arts student at the Dera-run Shah Satnamji Girls College, became the first girl from the sect to represent India when she took part in the junior World Championship in 2007. In the same year, Rajinder Singh became the first boy to from the community to do that.
Since then, there hasn’t been a junior India judo team without a representative from this sect.
“Most of our players are from villages and poor families. The Dera not only helps them practice judo but also provides free education, board and lodging,” said judo coach Ranbir Singh Nain. His wife Nirnala is the girls’ coach.
“Earlier, we would train kids in an open arena but three years ago when the first of our trainees represented the country, the Dera authorities built an indoor hall,” Ranbir said.
Dera’s link with judo is a decade old and it happened when Nirmala was appointed coach at Shah Satnamji Girls School and College. Ranbir, an NIS (National Institute of Sport) coach in kabaddi, too switched to judo and joined the boys’ section.
The rest, as they say, is the history.