Ananya Dutta

KOLKATA: Convicted prisoners locked arms and rubbed shoulders with professionals at the 59 {+t} {+h} West Bengal Kabaddi Championship that concluded here on Wednesday – the first time that jail inmates participated in a mainstream sports tournament in India.

Pitched against 45 teams and sports clubs from across the State, the prisoners, most of them serving life sentence, reached the quarter-finals of the tournament before being beaten by tournament favourites, a club from Hooghly in the south of the State.

“While the team's success in its maiden outing was heartening, what was overwhelming was the incredible support they got from the crowds at the venue,” said B.D. Sharma, the State's Additional Director-General and Inspector-General of Correctional Services.

The initiative was taken nearly fours years ago when the West Bengal Kabaddi Association was approached and coaches were assigned to three of the State's six Central jails to groom interested inmates. Kabaddi, cited as the “sport of rural Bengal”, was chosen as several inmates are from rural areas and well acquainted with the sport, Mr. Sharma said.

A notification by the State Government's Department of Jails setting up the West Bengal Correctional Home Residents' Sports Club in June 2009 set the ball rolling for the team's affiliation by the West Bengal Kabaddi Association (WBKA). Captained by Khaleq Pai, who has served 20 years of a life sentence in a murder case, the team is the group champion in the State's kabaddi league.

“At the league stage, the matches would be held within the jail premises. The other teams would be taken there, but this time the inmates came to the grounds itself,” said Sujit Chakrabarty, the secretary of the WBKA.

The team has several exceptional players who can definitely play at the national level, he added.