'Too poor to afford shoes, I practised barefoot' — 19-year-old gold medalist Supriti Kachhap tells Gaon Connection
Supriti Kachhap, who belongs to the Oraon tribe in Jharkhand, lost her father when she was eight-month-old and her mother worked as a daily wager to feed her five children. At the Khelo India Youth Games in Panchkula, Supriti won a gold medal in the 3,000 metre race in the under-21 category.
Manoj Choudhary 13 Jun 2022 6:47 AM GMT
On June 12, the nondescript Buruhu village in Gumla district of Jharkhand wore a festive look. Holding garlands, villagers danced to the local tribal songs, raising slogans to welcome and celebrate the victory of the village's daughter – 19-year old Supriti Kachhap – who won a gold medal at the Khelo India Youth Games in Panchkula, Haryana. Supriti belongs to the Oraon tribe.
Defying all odds, Supriti, who lost her father when she was eight-month-old and belongs to a very poor family, has made Jharkhand proud as she won a gold medal and created a record of nine minutes 46.14 seconds in girls' 3,000 metre race in under-21 category at the Khelo India games on June 9.
Supriti is the youngest of the five siblings (three sisters and two brothers) and has braved several storms to finally achieve success and bring home the glory. After losing her husband Ramsewak Oraon, Balmati Oraon, the mother of Supriti, worked as a 'reja' (an unskilled daily wage worker) to raise her kids.
"Initially my mother was earning very little and it was not possible for her to buy me sports shoes. However, I did not stop practising and continued to run without shoes till I got admitted to St Patrick's School in Gumla," Supriti told Gaon Connection over the phone. "In my new school, I, along with other students, were provided sports shoes but only during the practice hours and had to return them to the department every day," she added.
Despite hurdles, Supriti emerged a winner and has made her family and her state proud.
On June 10, the district administration felicitated Balmati Oraon with a shawl, followed by a grand welcome to the sports star on June 12. Vishnudev Kachhap, block development officer (BDO) of Ghaghra block in Gumla where Supriti's village is located, referred to her as the 'hero' of the soil.
"We are highly pleased that the girl of our block has done well at the athletic championship. We are looking forward to her performance in the upcoming world athletics events," the BDO told Gaon Connection.
Losing a father
Supriti, daughter of Ramsewak Oraon, was only eight-month-old when she lost her father on a cold December night of 2003. Ramsewak, a medical practitioner at his Buruhu village, was killed by suspected Maoists and his body was found the next morning. Her mother, Balmati Oraon, struggled hard to feed her children and raise them as Ramsewak was the sole earning member of the family.
"There was nothing but darkness around when I lost my husband in my early thirties. It was difficult for me to survive, but I decided to fight it out to feed two meals a day to my five kids – Sushanti, Sukhshanti and Supriti, Sandeep and Kuldeep," Balmati told Gaon Connection. "To feed my kids, I started working as a 'reja' (an unskilled daily wage worker). I have a small patch of agricultural land but there was no one to cultivate it. Hence, I decided to continue as a reja," she added.
Under the state government's policy, a family member of the victim of a Naxal attack is eligible for a government job. Hence, Balmati got a fourth grade job at the Ghaghra block development office in 2004. It improved the family's financial status a little bit, as she got a small quarter in the block headquarter to live in. Later she got her children admitted to a local school but their struggle for life continued.
The rise of the sports star
Supriti started running at the Nukrudippa school ground in Chainpur (Gumla), where she was admitted for regular education. The school had been paying special attention to students' sports and she got inspiration from senior students. It is here that Supriti started to run barefoot, but she did not leave practice as she wanted to excel at athletics and bring fame to her family, she said.
It was only after getting admission at St Patrick's School in Gumla that she got a pair of shoes but only during the practice hours. However, she continued with her regular athletics practice.
Talking about her daughter's struggle, Balmati, the proud mother, said that she did her best for the girl with the limited resources she had. "It was not possible to provide her shoes worth several thousand rupees for practice, as I had a very low salary," the mother lamented.
Having a general diet at school hostel in Gumla, Supriti said she never lost courage to give her best on the ground.
"Along with other students, I had been getting rice, dal and curry three times a day in the school. I knew the diet was not sufficient to improve my strength or capacity on the ground. However, I was hopeful for my career and did my best with strong will power," the proud gold medalist said.
Supriti proved her athletic skills at the inter school championship in Gumla. Officials of Jharkhand Sports Training Centre started paying special attention on improving her skill from 2015. Since then there has been no looking back.
In 2018, Supriti got selected for SAI Middle and Long Distance Academy in Bhopal. She won the first national medal – a silver – in the 2,000 metre race at the national cross country championships in Mathura in 2019. She won a bronze medal in the 3,000 metre rave in the national junior athletics championship in Guntur in the same year.
Last year, in 2021, she won silver in 3,000 metre race at the National Junior Athletics Championship in Guwahati as well as bronze medals in 3,000 metre and 5,000 metre events at the Junior Federation Cup in Bhopal.
Before showing her skill at the Khelo India Youth Games, the athlete from tribal hinterland, had completed the women's 5,000 metre race in the Federation Cup Senior Athletics Championships at Kozhikode, hence qualified for the under-20 World Athletics Championship to be held in Colombia in August .
"For improving girls' sports in the block, we pay special attention to conducting seasonal sports events at school, block and district level. Supriti was selected and identified by sports' authorities at such events," the BDO Vishnudev Kachhap said. "From this year, we have been paying special attention to athletics. Girls are being promoted to participate in such events. We will ensure the best sports resources at school level in order to improve their performance," he added.
'Need a bathroom at home'
The Khelo India gold medalist does not have a bathroom at home and has to take a bath at a well near her residence.
The district administration has assured to improve basic facilities including water and other welfare schemes in Supriti's Buruhu village. After the mother's felicitation for daughter's performance on June 10, the district administration has assured that they will soon provide water and bathroom facilities at her residence.
The administration has informed Balmati that she would also get other benefits of various welfare schemes under the state government.
Due to poor financial status, Supriti's family does not own a television. The family members could not watch her performance and her winning the medal on television, and it was Supriti who later phoned them up and informed them about her victory.
Speaking about her future plan to Gaon Connection, Supriti, the second year undergraduate student said that she would complete her graduation while also participating in the sports events. She is hopeful that the state government will come forward and offer her a job so that she can support her family.
"It is difficult for my mother to get me shoes of Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000, and other kits for improving my performance. I need financial support to continue with my athletics journey. I want to make my nation proud," Supriti said.
"There should be appropriate playgrounds at all the panchayats to let the village students prove their skill. The government should pay close attention to regular sports events at village schools and also at the district and state level as budding stars can be identified at such events," she suggested.
The district administration has assured Supriti that a stadium would be set up in her village to promote sports activities among the local students.