The ancient game of wrestling is losing its significance in the modern era due to lack of facilities.
Every morning at around four, a group of 20 wrestlers of Ugargol, starts its day with exercising. They run around the Yellamma Gudda without a break. These wrestlers exercise daily for two hours in the morning from four to six. After coming back, they directly go to their practice place. They enter the cramped, airless room which they call Akhada. This room’s floor is covered by red mud and a small photo of Lord Hanuman is hanging on the wall. Wrestlers commonly worship Lord Hanuman, they believe that he makes them powerful and strong just like him. In the room, there are few Gadha (mace) kept, to exercise. The coach of this group, Rajesab Bevingidad, prepares the mud before their arrival. After entering akhada the coach starts guiding the wrestlers to warm-up and then starts their Dangal (wrestling match) one by one. He teaches them techniques and trick which they can use. He teaches them to counter-attack and how to release from the other’s grip while playing.
Rajesab Bevingidad is 58-year-old. He was fourteen years old when he first stepped into the Akhada. He started wrestling with his father and his brother. Along with him, there were many other wrestlers who used to come for taleem (practice). Mainly the reason was that there were many competitions used to be held in the 1970s. His father used to teach him, and his brother. A few years later his father passed away. But they hadn’t stopped practising. Gradually his brother stopped playing. The reason was that he had to look after their family. The wrestling was not helping them financially in any way, he started farming. Rajesaab does not want to leave his practice, so he continued. Rajesaab’s career took off when he won All India Champion award in Kurnool in Haryana (1981). He has won many awards during his 13 years of his wrestling career like Karnataka Kesari in 1982, Dasara Kumar in 1982, Dasara Kanteerava in 1983. Many people offered him to participate in international events like Olympic, he had that strength but his family couldn’t afford to send him anywhere. He did not get any help from the government. When Rajesaab got married in 1986, he started feeling guilty. One member added in their family and in some way or other their needs were increased. Rajesaab took a decision of leaving wrestling to earn money. Although he wanted to play further because of money issues, he couldn’t. He left the wrestling career in 1987. He began to do farming with his brother.
The Karnataka government gives scholarship to students. The Department of Youth Empowerment and sports. The selection process is very lengthy. The students have to participate and travel to their district like Belgaum. But not everyone has the financial condition to reach their respective districts. Some do not send their children because they need help in their farming. This situation mainly occurs in rural areas, because many people do not send their children to schools but are very good at wrestling.
Under Pension for meritorious sportsperson scheme, the sports authority of India is providing pension to Olympic sportsperson only. The sports budget released for 2019 is Rs. 214.20 crore. However, it is difficult to say how many people will be benefitted from that.
Lack of knowledge is also a problem in rural areas. Parents do not know the sports policies and never asks for their rights to information about this subject. The authority of the taluka itself does not know the situation. There is a lack of records in their offices. Venkatesh Kammanavar, Chief Engineer in Saundatti, says: ” There is no budget for wrestling particularly but we spend 2% of the total sports budget on wrestlers sometimes. Students who participate from schools get a few gifts which will help them in their education, like books, pens and few other things.”
Apart from this, there is no allowance mentioned in the sports budget for senior players, who have brought fame to the Taluka. Venkatesh added that “Till now there is no budget has been presented for this year. We are waiting for that”. The sports authority is not giving importance to this game in the rural area, no budget for the sports wrestling is the raising concern. The urban area is getting developed instead. The clarity and fair amount of balance are not present between urban and rural areas.
There are no offices of any sports authority in Saundatti. Whoever wants a scholarship or any allowance has to go to nearest city Dharwad or to the district office in Belagavi. Raghvendra Ghorpade, Engineer in Mini Vidhan Soudha, ” I have no information about any government for senior sportsmen, the people living in Saundatti taluka has to go to Dharwad or Belagavi to participate in any competition and all the procedures are done in Belagavi. There is no sports authority present in Saundatti taluka.” Rajesaab has trained many players, excluding these twenty wrestlers, and they have won awards at the national level. Rajesaab trains every wrestler free of cost without taking any money from them, this is a huge thing as he doesn’t have any source of income at present. His wife Aafia Bevingidad, earns money from doing business in Yellamma Guda (Famous temple of Renuka Yellamma).
The twenty wrestlers in his group are from the same village. He has students of the age group of 10-25 years. In which two of them are his own children. Merasab (24) and Mushpikir Alam (15). They both are doing really well in their career. Merasaab participates in almost every competition held in Karnataka. He recently won an award in Bengaluru during Banashankari Jatra, he secured first place in that competition. Merasab is preparing for the next competition now. Whereas Mushpikir is the younger brother but the passion is nowhere less than his elder brother. He has several awards of district level and trying to focus on national level games now.
Wrestling is a very old and famous game in villages of Karnataka. The villagers used to play Kushti to pass their time before but the current situation is that wrestling has lost its meaning. It was a very important game before but now very rarely anyone plays wrestling every day in the taluk. Rajesaab’s group is one group who is trying to save this game. These group members are not rich, their main source of income is farming but in the same village, they do not even get proper water for their crops. If the government will not support them then they might drop practising.
The main coach of Department of youth empowerment and sports in Belagavi, Nagaraj says that “The true talent of India is found in rural India only, 90% of my students are from rural Karnataka but there are many who did not get the opportunity to come forward. Also, many people are leaving wrestling in their villages.”
Rajesaab has sent much application to the Karnataka government, Rajesaab and his team have recently met the Chief Minister of Karnataka, H. D. Kumaraswamy to asking him for an increase in his allowance from Rs.3000. Rajesaab says, ” I want to build a big practice room for my students and also to give them the opportunity to play on a mat.” He has a dream of seeing his students playing in international level matches. Rajesaab has also asked the CM of Karnataka to help his group in establishing a better infrastructure for his students. They are still waiting for the government’s reply.
The losing value of these sports is an alarming situation. The base of the wrestling is rural parts of India. However, losing the grip of these games is a big loss for the country. One can directly relate this to the economic status of India. These Young wrestlers do not get any jobs from the government, even after securing a good position in competitions. Merasahib is 21-year-old, says that “The neighbouring state offers railway jobs to the sportsperson, but in Karnataka, we do not have any chances of that. I have applied but did not get any answer from that.” Blaming the government inability to reply Merasahib added, “ This is the reason why my teammates are leaving wrestling. Many of us are trying to balance the wrestling and work but it has become very difficult. As there was very less rainfall happened in North Karnataka.”
The need for allowances and proper scheme for these wrestlers are very important. Ex sportsperson mostly spend their youth in playing for the competitions. They hardly can manage to get income from other sources. As it is very hard to work when a person becomes old. On the other hand, Young wrestlers are in need of constant motivation. These people expect that at least they should get what they actually need. Despite getting into National level competition, Rajesaab’s student still suffering from poverty. Nazeer and Ibuddin have reached in National level wrestling Hind Kesari in 2017 which was held in Pune. They have hope that they will win the competition and will reach the International level championship. They want to play for India.
The daily routine is very strict with the wrestlers. The taleem has its own restrictions. The wrestlers should be disciplined, regular in their diet which should be healthy. They have to take care of their own expenses. Their diet includes dry fruits, a non-vegetarian meal like fish, meat and chicken, fruits and milk. Every day around Rs. 500 needs to be spent on their diet. “It gets difficult for us to spend this much money every day. Since I am a painter, I earn money but it is not enough. Every month Rs. 15,000 goes into our diet routine. Because of this many people from our group have left wrestling and now focusing on earning money,” says Ibuddin, one of the members in Rajesaab’s team.
There are 125 villages under Saundatti taluka and Ugargol is the only village where they practice wrestling. In comparison with Maharashtra’s wrestlers, they get a good amount of pension and the government also encourage them by providing the facility for developing the infrastructure for wrestling, to carry this game forward.