February 24, 2019

1 village, 9 akharas, 400 wrestlers

Delhi/India/Politics by

He grabs a fistful of dry clay and a spark lights up his eyes. There’s a subtle shift in momentum as the banter dies down and a light brown mist covers the pit. The energy is palpable but more than that, the respect for the sport is enviable. Wrestling is not just a passion but a religion here.

This village has nine akharas, where nearly 400 young boys train every day. Almost every home in Shahpur Bamheta of Ghaziabad has a wrestler. Located merely 25km from the national Capital New Delhi, it is similar to other villages of the National Capital Region (NCR) in terms of wealth and modern amenities.

Most importantly, it’s a gold mine of wrestling champions.

More than just a sport

Coach Vijay Pal Yadav, who has received Uttar Pradesh Kesari and Yash Bharti awards, says: “Every home has, at least, one wrestler here. Almost every akhara here has international-level wrestlers and modern coaching facilities, which attracts young boys from other states as well.”

Explaining the tradition in the village, he adds: “Just as army training is mandatory in Israel, you can say that practicing wrestling, at least for a few days, is mandatory here.”

Training for defence services

“This game trains a person so that he can easily pass the mandatory physical test during police or defence recruitment. Recently, the government has also been helping out wrestlers with good performance record by providing jobs,” says Arun Kumar, a state-level gold medallist from Uttar Pradesh, adding that most villagers have served the nation in this way.

Where wrestling is a way of life

Vishal Chaudhary, 12, from Bamheta is the youngest in his family to follow wrestling as a tradition. “I have been practising for the last six months. I inherited my passion for this game from my uncle, who was also a wrestler.”

Local, small-level tournaments of wrestling are still crowd-pullers in rural northern India. Villages are known to have a certain fondness for this sport. But here in Bamheta, this passion has turned into a way of life. Kids are encouraged to start training early, and discussions and dreams are centered around wrestling.

With Indian wrestlers now gaining international fame, media coverage and better sponsors, the appeal for the sport has also increased among the youth. “Sushil Kumar is my favourite Indian wrestler. I want to be like him one day,” Vishal says.

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