February 18, 2011 | The Telegraph

With help from Tata Archery Academy, rural archers hope to earn India’s bows

Jamshedpur: Sukhmati, like any rural girl, thought she’d have to spend her life in front of a mud stove, smoke smarting her eyes. Instead, the teen from Seraikela has her eyes fixed on the bullseye.

The archer is representing Jharkhand at the ongoing National Games and wants to do a Deepika in the Indian round.

Five tribal archers — Sukhmati Purty, Tulsi Hembrom, Ramesh Balmuchu, Aryan Shaw and Mukesh Tuli — are making their Games debut, bagging berths from among 150 competitors.

Had Tata Archery Academy (TAA) not come up with archery feeder centres in districts, Sukhmati and her peers would have had a different destiny.

“In villages, girls get married early. I never thought I could be an archer. But the TAA feeder centre spotted talent in me. I participated in the school-level meet, which got things rolling,” said Sukhmati at JRD Tata Sports Complex.

Kiriburu’s Tulsi (18) has a different story. Her brothers did not allow her to become an archer, but husband Turi Sundi egged her on. Like Sukhmati, she is also representing the state in the Indian round.

Aryan Shaw (15) from Ghato, West Bokaro, wants to be an engineer. But his bigger dream is a Games gold medal. “I thank my coaches and TAA for bringing me here,” said the bashful Aryan.

The TAA’s feeding centres at Noamundi (West Singhbhum), Jamadoba (West Bokaro), Jagdalpur (Chhattisgarh) and Kalinganagar (Orissa) are spotting tens and hundreds of Sukhmatis and Aryans, first through school tourneys.

“Most belong to farming backgrounds. Some are so poor that they can’t afford archery kits. Convincing family members is a challenge. For rural archers, reaching this level is a big thing. They are winners already,” said D.K. Lal, assistant treasurer of Jharkhand Archery Association.

Coach Prakash Ram, who has handheld these talents, thinks they can bag a medal or two. “Jharkhand youngsters have talent, but need help to hone their potential. I’m sure some from this bunch will win a Games medal,” he said.

Deepika is not just an icon for girls. “After Deepika, archery is on everyone’s lips. I want to play in the Commonwealth Games and Olympics. And why not?” asks Ramesh.

At the bustling JRD Tata complex, Mukesh listens intently to Aryan when the latter talks about being an engineer. “That’s fine, but even if you go to IIT, 30 families from your village will know you. But if you win a gold medal, the entire nation does.”