Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pools shut doors for 'Swimming Prodigy'

This story after it appeared in the Hindustan Times - Bhopal edition in 2001, gave a great feeling to me, since I being from a sporting background, I had placed myself into the situation the boys who were using the Lower Lake as their swimming turf and bringing laurels to the State of Madhya Pradesh, while those who were slightly higher in financial status were given the privilege of training in the Government swimming pool. After this story appeared in Hindustan Times - Main Paper along with supplement srories in the HT Bhopal -Live and the Photo Story, Uma Bharati the then Union Minister for Sports intervened and ensured that all these underprivileged swimmers of the city of Bhopal are issued a card and allowed to train in the government swimming pools. This plain satisfaction which my story did for the boys of the fishermen community in Bhopal will always remain in my memory and am also thankful to Uma Bharati who had taken some steps to build the bridge and ensure that at least in sports there is no difference between the rich and poor.

Winning two swimming gold medals at the National level and about 75 gold medals at district and State levels during the past five years means nothing for the people who run the three swimming pools in Bhopal. Swimming prodigy 14- year old Sajan Batham would still have to practice in the highly contaminated and foul-smelling waters of the Lower Lake.
The doors of the swimming pools are close on Sajan and about fifty other youths of the fishermen community for they cannot pay the annual fee of Rs 1000 or above. Nor do they have the conveyance facility to travel from downtown Bhoipura locality on the bank of the Lower Lake to the swimming pools every day.
Sajan is one of the most promising boys being trained by Murildhar Batham who runs Dolphin Club.
In the national meet, Sajan participates in an amazing 16 events of the junior groups and eight of the senior’s category. The Batham community holds total sway in the district and State level championships. About 30 of the 45-member district team, participating in the current State Swimming championship under way here at Prakash Tarun Pushkar, are Bathams.
Nobody exactly remembers the number of golds Sajan has won at district and State levels. Not even Sajan himself. All his coach Murlidhar batham can say is “Sajan has won about 125 medals and no less than three-fourths of them are gold.”
But business is business. Neither the Capital Project Authority (CPA), which runs Prakash Tarun Pushkar, nor the Bhopal Municipal Corporation which runs Pari Bazar swimming pool can make a concession to the talented sports persons. Pay fees and acquire membership; health hazard from the Lower Lake and your talent both be damned.
Sajan and 30 others boys practice up to three hours every day in the Lower Lake. And yet they do not feel uncomfortable when they switch over to the swimming pools for the championship.

Sajan Batham (Left) and Sunil Batham (Right)

“I sure would like to regularly practice in swimming pools,” says Sajan with a sad look.
What facilities are provided by the State Swimming Association?
“Well, they allow us to compete in championships,” remarks Murlidhar. “In any case, the Association does not have funds to support swimmers adequately,” he adds. Sajan, though hurt and bewildered at not being allowed to the swimming pools, is undaunted. “I will keep winning till they come to me and offer to use the polls.” That, however, seems to be not possible in the near future.

Swimmers in Search of Water

Ranjit Bataham, a strapping 20 year old from the fisherman community is a temporary hand in the ongoing pulse polio campaign for a meager daily wage of Rs 30. his muscular tone doesn’t go with his menial job. He’s a swimmer in a league of his own, having made innumerable contribution in aquatics for Mahya Pradesh over the last eight years.
He doesn’t even remember the first splash in the historic Lower Lake of the State Capital. Boys from his community start that young. Ranjit has a unique legacy: his father Ravi Shankar was national and State Champion for over five years on the trot in the late 70s.
A word with the father-son duo reveals a shocking reality. Fishermen like them have been swimming in the polluted and stinking waters of the Lower Lake for decades before going on to be national champions. That’s because they aren’t allowed practice in the Government-controlled swimming pools in Bhopal, except for the odd meet because the State desperately needs the medals to show off. There’s no formal coaching. The love of water is all that keeps them going.
Ravi Shankar was a BHEL employee. Denied promotions despite earning bagsful of medals for his employer, Ravi Shankar turned to liquor to drown frustration borne out of neglect. When he was kicked out due to irregular attendance, unions demanded Rs 50,000 to help him get the job back. His latest vocation is taking tourists on a cruise in the Lower Lake and makes about Rs 60 a day. Fishing during pre-dawn hours helps him support a family of eight with about Rs 80 per day.
Ranjit, on the other hand, has quit studies and does odd jobs to support his family. “I have five younger sisters to marry off,” he moans.
There are many stories like this father-son duo. They don’t figure in the sports plans of the officialdom.
The indigent community went to the extent of pooling money to get a Sports Authority of India (SAI) coaching certification for one of its boys. Ishwar Ram Batham, another national swimmer, was coached at the SAI center in Patiala. Lack of opportunities forced him back into his dingy slum on the banks of the Lower Lake.

“When I approached SAI center in Bhopal after completing training in Patiala as a coach, I was told that it was a waste as there was no vacancy. “They added that swimming is not going to be promoted in Madhya Pradesh.” He then approached the State Swimming Federation only to hear the same answer.
The last swimming coach at SAI center in Bhopal was Dilip Singh Chouhan in 1995. Ishwar says if swimming is promoted in Bhopal, an unbeatable team could be produced.
“The Swimming Federation in Bhopal and Madhya Pradesh do very little for our community who are gifted swimmers from an early age. We are not even allowed to enter the pools for training,” Ishwar complains.
For the swimming team of Bathams & Raiwakars, the day starts very early, at 4am, catching fish. A two hour swimming practice follows from 7 am and after that it’s off to schools and colleges. Food, of course being low priority. Twenty-year-old Sunil Batham, a national swimmer and present State Champion with an unmatched record doesn’t know nutrition. He has taken part in 15 championships and meets including school-level, national opens and State championships, and has a haul of over 75 medals. “All we need is proper training and nourishment to produce results,” he says wistfully.
Sajan Batham is another swimmer who at 19 already has more than 50 medals, “All we need is the SAI canter to adopt us and the results will follow,” he says.
The list of national swimmers this small community has produced is long and medals are visible in all the community households near the Kali Mandir on the banks of the Lower Lake.

Can Uma Bharati & SAI help?

If sports lovers back they would have enough reasons to feel proud of the achievements of Limba Ram & Kamala Sidhi. Former Union Minister for Sports Margret Alva had started a scheme for the Sidhis in the costal belts of Karnataka. The scheme paid dividends. Present MP and Union Minister of Sports Uma Bharati would do well to initiate a similar scheme for the swimmers of the Batham & Raikwar community in Bhopal. Any delay would only kill the sport for this community, which youngsters already feel is a waste of energy. Instead they want to concentrate energies on their generations –old profession and catch fish for the “thekedars’ at an ever-decreasing price.

The Ekalvya and Vikram awards coveted by every State sportsperson have eluded the swimming community of the city for more that a decade. The last swimmer to have received the Vikram award for swimming was Deepak Joshi in 1990. Though their coach has been applying for his wards for the last 5 years the Lower Lake boys have yet to find favour with the Sports Department. The community calls it bias, and cites their extraordinary performances at the State and national levels. Sunil and Sajan Batham seem to have got the worst of the deal. Rajender, head coach of the community, says Indore swimmers wlk off with the awards with much less achievements. Last year’s Ekalavaya award winner for swimming has only a single National opens silver medal, he points out.

Reaction form the Union Minister for Sports:
After the Hindustan Times carried this story Union Sports Minister Uma Bharati who was in Bhopal, ensured that all the swimmers from this community were given an pass to enter the government run swimming pools and also were issued a free bus pass. As for SAI adopting them, Uma Bharati had issued an order asking SAI to work out the modalities of adopting them and had the director to submit a detailed report on how many would actually make it to the SAI center. This reaction from an Union Minister was very helpful and now the Bathams and the Raikwaras of the city of Lakes have started to swim their way to glory, only a few more years and one will get to see a flood of swimmers from this very bank at the Lower Lake fighting for honor in the elite of the elitist in the field of water sport.

1 comment:

any one see. said...

hollo shiv jee i am sajan batham. presently i work in sanskaar valley school in bhopal. today i see this story and feel happy.
thanking you for cabreg this story.