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Forgotten Heroes

Jaipal Singh Munda - The tribal rights activist who became a hockey legend

Here is a look into the story of India's greatest hockey legends and the protector of tribal rights - Jaipal Singh Munda

Hockey legend and tribal rights activist Jaipal Singh Munda

Jaipal Singh Munda (Source: Newsclick)


Monish Naidu

Updated: 13 July 2021 3:00 PM GMT

When Indian sport was still bound in shackles of colonial rule, a nervy Indian team left the Bombay port to participate in the 1928 Olympics set to take place in Amsterdam. Quite understandably, not many expected a notable performance.

That was evident in the fact that a total of three officials from the newly formed Indian Hockey Federation were present at the Bombay Port to see the team off.

The team though, comprising of Anglo-Indians and some England-based Indians did not have the best of warmups before their voyage losing 3-2 to the team from Bombay. Comprising of stalwarts like Dhyan Chand, Nawab of Pataudi Sr. And Feroze Khan, the team had what it needed to represent the new India.

Amidst the Nawabs and British-Indians, a defender born in the tribal Munda family of Jharkhand was named the captain of the contingent. Jaipal Singh, the captain of the first Hockey team from India that travelled to the Olympics and clinched goal without conceding a goal throughout the tournament.

Jaipal Singh led the 1928 Indian hockey team who won Olympic gold (Source: Forward press)

Born in a family of farmers, Jaipal was one of the few who was taken under the wings of Christian missionaries during his childhood. After showing immense promise in St. Paul's school in his village, he earned a scholarship for further studies at Oxford.

A stint at Oxford got him an opportunity to hone his abilities with the hockey stick. He became the first Indian student to be awarded the Oxford Blue, the highest possible honour conferred in the field of sports by the university.

He obtained the coveted Oxford degree in Economics and started preparing for Indian Civil Services. Quite expectedly, he topped the interviews and was selected by the ICS. During his probationary period with the ICS, he received a call to be a part of the Indian Hockey contingent.

With sheer pride in representing the nation at such a global event, Jaipal applied for leave but was refused by the ICS. However, Jaipal disobeyed the ruling and continued to pursue his passion. He joined the team in Amsterdam and due to his academic and diplomatic excellence, was named the captain.

The campaign started on a roll. The team performed like a well-oiled machine scoring 26 goals before the finals and conceding none. Jaipal was the armor of the defense which kept a clean sheet throughout the group stage.

With a persona so huge, it is peculiar to note that the legacy of Jaipal Singh as the hockey great, is not well-known around the country. When the Indian women's hockey squad was named for the Tokyo Olympics, there was a sole representative from the state of Jharkhand. A swift midfielder, Nikki Pradhan.

When interviewed by NewsClick, Nikki was quick to point out how much Jaipal means to the people of Jharkhand. Not only as a hockey legend but as the protector of tribal rights. Although it is painful to realize that he is one of the underappreciated gentlemen of Indian sporting history.

"I can't say how many people in the team know about Jaipal Singh Munda, to be honest," she says while speaking to the NewsClick. "I've never asked them. Maybe today, I will tell them."

When Jaipal disobeyed the ICS to represent India at the Olympics, there was a furor among the officials which led to a reprimand put for a year by the ICS on Jaipal. Amidst the drama, there was tension among the Anglo-Indian team members and the management regarding a tribal captain of the squad.

After a supposed altercation with the management, Jaipal left the team in the middle of the tournament and returned to India. Even the tournament's highest scored and the best Indian player to have graced the sport of hockey was appalled by the absence of the captain.

The matter was handled so disgracefully that the squad members in favour of Jaipal's presence were unaware of the reason he left the team. On arriving in India, he was received and congratulated by Lord Irwin, the then Viceroy of India, for his exploits in Amsterdam.

Jaipal Singh Munda (Source: Better India)

Jaipal however, was not going to bog down. He continued his community service and established the Adivasi Mahasabha focusing on the welfare of the tribes. He was one of the prominent voices during the draft of the constitution of Independent India.

Nevertheless, as the pitch has evolved from grass to turfs, the game needs a Jaipal lesson of clean tackling and sensible gameplay.

It has been more than 50 years since the great man left us. The legacy refuses to die down. Hockey was to Jaipal what Pietermaritzburg was to Gandhi. He never held a stick after the Olympic debacle but continued his service to the nation as a loyal son would.

Just like this, administrative deficiencies and self-driven motives led to the elimination of a stalwart. As our athletes gather momentum to represent the nation at yet another Olympics, it should be our responsibility to recognize such heroes from the yesteryears.

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