It is the caste system that has discouraged competition, and destroyed sports culture KANCHA ILAIAH The Indian Express Wednesday, October 06, 2004
We have returned empty-handed from the Olympics except for a silver in shooting. The pundits of ancient Indian history tell us that we have influenced the world with our ancient great games. Perhaps the only great game that our kings and acharyas were aware of was archery (banavidya). We heard a lot about Dronacharya’s so-called greatness. In terms of merit and efficiency, we know how anti-merit Dronacharya actually was. Between Arjuna and Ekalavya, one was put on the road of victory by denying equal opportunity to the other; Ekalavya’s body was mutilated. However, India’s sports culture also suffers from a deeper malady. In ancient India, what were the games that we specialised in? From Ramayana and Mahabharata, we do not have any evidence of India acquiring great stature in the art of physical exercise, in which competition was thrown open for all social classes. Any nation’s sports culture emerges out of a strong production culture in combination with a mass intake of high-calorie food. National energy is built through day-to-day practice of the work ethic. At a fundamental level, in the caste system, the Brahminic culture held all work that was centred around the body as spiritually undignified. Tilling the soil, pot-making, shoe-making, shepherding, toddy-tapping, palm- and coconut tree-tapping were seen as lowly and degraded. Those who were in a high spiritual position condemned productive and energy-building work. In fact, moksha was to be attained not through physical exertion but through mental efforts. No wonder India has traditionally failed to produce great sportsmen and women. If you can’t climb a tree or sculpt a pot, how can you throw a javelin or a discus?Food culture plays a crucial role in the sports culture of a nation. In India, the hegemonisation of vegetarian food, the upholding of vegetarianism as morally superior, as against the consumption of multi-cultural foods, has cut at the root of the growth of Indian human energy both at the social level and also individual level. Two things happened because of the vegetarian campaign in India. First, enormous wastage of food resources. Second, Indian agriculture has been turned into a vegetarian agricultural process that limits the expansion of our food resource. The middle class, which is competing to send its children into the sports field, has become an insulated social mass in terms of food habits and work culture. Leisure-centered games like chess and cricket do not help us in building the nation. At best, they may create emotional nationalism. India thus needs to encourage more energy-related rather than emotion-related games. Exceptional players like P T Usha, Dada Kishan Lal (who led the hockey team in 1948) came from lower-caste backgrounds.