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Indian athletes from tribal backgrounds who made it big

Indian athletes from tribal backgrounds who made it big

Aryan Mishra

Published: 27 Jun 2019 11:32 AM GMT
India is home to over 1.3 billion people scattered across the length and breadth of the country. Though we have a diverse set of religions, culture, background, habits, and preferences, one thing which binds us is the love for sports. India has a rich pool of sporting talent in its widely distributed tribal belt. In spite of being marginalised from the mainstream, these areas have churned an abundance of athletes for India. Tribal pockets in India are distributed across states like Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, the Northeast regions and also in some parts of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and West Bengal. Over the years, athletes from these areas have represented their state and later on India in their respective disciplines. In a majority of these tribal areas, societies nurture the people with discipline, endurance and tolerating hunger and pain. It is this endurance, which allows them to well in athletics. Indian tribals mostly inhabit hilly, forest belts, where they have to walk miles to access regular amenities. This only makes them sturdier. Moreover, tribals have evolved engaging in hunting and food gathering. This makes them great outdoor persons, with a particular affinity for sports. They engage in collective activities from repairing houses to working in the paddy fields, which is another factor that develops their sporting attitude. Here are some notable sportspersons who have hailed from tribal areas and have made our country proud:

Dutee Chand

The Indian professional sprinter is the current national champion in the women's 100 metres event. She is the third Indian woman to ever qualify for the Women's 100 metres event at the Summer Olympic Games. Coming from the Jajpur district of Odisha, her source of inspiration is her elder sister Saraswati Chand, who competed in running at the state level. Right from the start in 2012, when she became a national champion in the under-18 category, till the recently concluded Asian Games in Jakarta 2018, she has been the inspiration for the youth coming up. In the 2018 Asian Games, she clinched silver medals in women’s 100m and 200m finals.

Mary Kom

Boxer Mary Kom is the true embodiment of India's sporting legacy. She is the only woman to become World Amateur Boxing champion for a record six times, and the only woman boxer to have won a medal in each one of the seven world championships. Nicknamed Magnificent Mary, she is the only Indian woman boxer to have qualified for the 2012 Summer Olympics, competing in the flyweight (51 kg) category and winning the bronze medal. She became the first Indian woman boxer to get a Gold Medal in the Asian Games in 2014 at Incheon, South Korea and is the first Indian woman boxer to win gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Before giving the world a glimpse of her talent, she had accolades at the state and national as well. Along with all these, she is the first amateur athlete to win the Padma Bhushan.

Bhaichung Bhutia

The Sikkimese Sniper is the torchbearer of Indian football in the international arena. He is considered as the epitome of the rise of Indian football. His hunger for goals and his passion for the game made him one of the father figures of Indian football. He has played for the Indian football team for a good 16 and has also captained the national side before retiring in 2011 when he played his last match against Bayern Munich at JLN stadium, New Delhi. He made his international debut in 1995 against Thailand in the Nehru Cup, when he was just 19 years of age. In the same tournament, Bhutia scored a goal against Uzbekistan to become the youngest ever Indian goalscorer. Bhutia has also received Arjuna Award for football in 1998, Padma Shri in 2008, Asian Football hall of fame inductee in 2014.


The 19-year-old forward of the Indian women's hockey team, Lalremsiami was a part of the 18-member squad that represented India at the 2018 World Cup. At the Asian Games that followed, she became the first sportsperson from Mizoram to win an Asiad medal after the team won silver. She has been a part of U-18 Indian team at the Asia Cup in 2016. She represented the U-18 side at Asian Youth Olympic Games qualifier, that her side finished second in. Played 2017 Asia Cup in the senior team who won the Gold, included in the squad of 2018 Asian Champions Trophy, winning the second place. Lalremsiami was included in the 18-member squad for the 2018 World Cup as India's youngest player at 18. And recently she was part of the winning team who defeated Japan in the FIH World Series Finals in Hiroshima and also qualified for Olympic Qualifiers.

Birendra Lakra

Birendra Lakra has been a reliable name in the Indian men's hockey team. He represented India during the 2012 London Olympics. Lakra was born in the village of Lachchada in the Sundargarh District of Odisha, on the border of Jharkhand. He was born to a family belonging to an Oraon tribe. He was included in the Indian junior team for the first time for the Singapore tour in 2007 and went on to represent India's senior team in the Test series against South Africa in 2012, in the Champions Challenge tournament in South Africa in 2011, at the SAAF Games at Dhaka in 2010, at the Youth Olympics at Sydney in 2009 and at the Junior World Cup at Singapore in 2009. At the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Lakra won a silver medal with India.

Dangmei Grace

Dangmei Grace is one of the most prominent faces in Indian football who plays as a forward for the India Women's National Football Team. Grace belongs to a Rongmei Naga Tribe from Dimdailong Village, in Manipur. Grace played her debut international match in AFC Qualifiers in 2013. Then she became a regular members of women's national team. She was part of the team at the 2014 Asian Games and at the 2016 South Asian. Dangmei played the inaugural edition and the second edition of Indian Women's League with Kryphsa F.C. She joined Sethu FC in 2019 for the 3rd edition of IWL. During the 2018 Indian Women's League, she was awarded as the Emerging Player Award. She has appeared 37 times for the national team and has scored 14 goals for India.

Deepika Kumari

Deepika Kumari has been one of the best archers India has ever produced. She rose to prominence in 2010, when she won a Commonwealth gold in the the women’s individual recurve archery event. She then doubled it up with a gold in the team’s event of the same competition. Living 15 kilometres away from Ranchi with her parents, in Ratu Chatti village, as a child, when she had no means of practising with the proper equipment. She had no choice but to train with mangoes as her target and with stones instead of a bow and arrow. She scripted history at the first stage of World Cup in Shanghai. In 2016, she equaled Ki Bo-bae’s world record of (686/720) in the recurve event.

Thonakal Gopi

The athlete from Kerala had qualified to represent India at the 2016 Summer Olympics in the marathon event. He is also a part of the Indian Army. Coming from a tribal family of Wayanad district, Kerala, he won the Gold Medal in the 10,000-meter National Open Athletics Championships in 2014 and another Gold Medal in the South Asian Games in 2016 with a new Games Record, Gopi represented India in the 2016 Asian Cross-Country Championships. He represented India at the 2016 Summer Olympics, qualifying with a Marathon time of 02:16:15 in the 2016 Mumbai Marathon along with two other Indian marathoner men, Kheta Ram and Nitendra Singh Rawat. He secured the 25th overall position at the 2016 Summer Olympics marathon finals and was the first among the three participants.
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