Written by Dilip Tirkey
My introduction to Jaipal Singh Munda sir was via a book.
I was very young and still learning to play the sport when a hockey writer published a list of all the players who had captained India at the Olympic Games. Jaipal sir’s name was on top of the pile. I did not immediately realise how big a deal it was to be a team’s captain. It was only later, when I started playing seriously, that I understood the respect and honour associated with the role.
But to say that Jaipal sir was the flag-bearer of tribal hockey would be too simplistic. Indeed, he was the first Adivasi player to represent India. He captained the team that won India’s first hockey gold, at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. In that sense, he opened the door for a lot of us from the tribal belt. However, he left behind a great legacy beyond the hockey field as well.
Hence, the Jharkhand government’s decision to award six tribal students a scholarship in his name, sending them to the United Kingdom for higher education, is a fitting tribute to a great man.
These are good times for Indian hockey. In Odisha, under Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, we are working hard to bring back the golden days by providing the best of facilities to the players and hosting major international tournaments, including the World Cup, in tribal areas like Rourkela. At the same time, it is important to make sure we do not forget the contributions made by heroes from past generations.
The decision to help youngsters from the tribal belt attain education from reputed universities would have made Jaipal sir very proud, given the kind of importance he gave to education. At a very early age, the principal of his school in Ranchi took him under his wings and sent Jaipal sir to Oxford University for higher education.
Jaipal sir played hockey for the Oxford University team and his career flourished. He played as a deep defender and was known to have been very good — a clean tackler, calm-headed, with an unparalleled ability to read the game and with powerful hits. These are some of the qualities that define players from the tribal belt even today — from the legendary Michael Kindo to players like Birendra Lakra, Amit Rohidas and Deep Grace Ekka, who were part of the men’s and women’s hockey teams at the Tokyo Olympics recently.
Jaipal sir made a significant contribution off the field as well. After he returned to India in 1937, he championed the cause of the tribals and worked tirelessly for their empowerment. He joined politics, formed the Adivasi Mahasabha in 1938 and used it as a platform to demand the creation of a separate Jharkhand state. Then, as a representative of the tribal community at the Constituent Assembly, which was responsible for drafting the Indian Constitution, he made sure the voice of his people were heard.
For these reasons, we call him Marang Gomke, roughly translated as ‘great leader’, around these parts. In and around Chota Nagpur and the Adivasi belt, we remember him fondly even today for being a great player, a highly-rated intellectual and a visionary leader.
On the hockey field, there was a huge void after Jaipal sir stopped playing. For almost four decades, we had little-to-no representation at the national level. It’s a mystery to me why there was such a long gap, but the long drought ended when Michael Kindo, who went on to play in three World Cups (1971, 1973 and 1975), the 1972 Munich Olympics and the 1974 Tehran Asian Games, was selected for India. For my generation, which saw him live, Michael remains a big inspiration as well.
But sometimes, you wonder if any of us would have made it this far had Jaipal sir not taken the first step.
The author is former captain of the Indian hockey team