This report is the third of a 12-part series on the changing face of the Indian slum, chronicling stories of new social and economic trends in our impoverished neighbourhoods
What makes them so athletic? Not a day passes without Rasoolpura’s young sportspersons making a dash for the track and field. Many vault into the boxing ring. A few go as far as the lake to tame the wind and sail. Girls hike to the ground for athletic training and handball practice.
A yen for sports, especially boxing, pervades the slum. Proximity to the Gymkhana Grounds, the famed cricket ground of Secunderabad, has stoked and preserved the passion.
Take Yerrolla Prasad, who has fallen completely in love with water but also occasionally spar. For this shy, soft-spoken 16-year-old, born and raised in a 7X7 tenement, sailing is a passion. If the wind keeps away, he leaps into the water for kayaking.
N. Shyam Prasad, who finished first-year B.Com., is saving up for a trip to Haryana to perfect his pugilistic skills, win the gold at the national level and join the Indian Air Force — his dream of years.
“All my friends abandoned sailing, overawed by the waters of Hussain Sagar Lake, despite their training in swimming. I never had any fear, and loved sailing. I hope it will help me get into the police service,” Yerrolla Prasad says.
The eldest of three children of a Dalit daily-wage earner, he snagged gold in the junior category of the Monsoon Regatta of the National Optimist Coastal Championship in 2014. Sponsored by the Yacht Club of Hyderabad, he participated in sailing events in Pune and Chennai. He was one of the 14 children from the slum trained in swimming by Bhumi, a youth-volunteer non-profit organisation, before being sent to the Yacht Club three years ago.
Shyam is now busy at a bakers’. “Four or five of us are working during summer holidays, so that we can save up for the trip and training in Haryana,” he says.
The Hyderabad District Sports Authority is coaching more than 10 youngsters from the slum at the Gymkhana Grounds. “We encourage youth to take up sports. The idea is to dissuade them from ‘gutkha’ and substance abuse. We ran a gym for three years, but had to shut it for lack of funds,” says Sheik Nayeem, convener of the Kriya Sangh Society, a community group trained by Bhumi before it left the slum.
N. Ramya, Shyam’s sister, wears her brother’s boxing shorts and shoes and trains with her friend K. Sandhya at the grounds for a summer camp.
“Initially, we could not cross our locality wearing shorts. There would be catcalls and jeers. Now, we wear trousers underneath and remove them after reaching the grounds,” says A. Bhavani, a Plus Two student.
Bhavani is into running, long jump, high jump and basketball, apart from handball. Introduced to sports during her schooldays, she was selected for training by the District Sports Authority and went on to participate in State-level handball and judo tournaments. Her brother A. Sai Kumar is into hockey.
“I studied in a private school, and though it didn’t have a ground of its own, the teachers took us to Gymkhana Grounds for games. It has become a habit,” Bhavani says.
Though parental aspirations are high about their wards’ education and career, that do not come in the way of sports.
Y. Bhaskar, Yerrolla Prasad’s father, has decided not to enrol his son in a private educational institution despite repeated calls from multiple colleges, as that would hinder his sailing aspirations.
“I want him to become an IPS officer. I hope his training as a sailor does help him get through,” he says, while his wife, Parvathi, nods in agreement.
“There are 130 to 140 self-help groups in this area, offering women loans at low interest rates. When it comes to school fees, loans of Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 20,000 come in handy,” Mr. Nayeem says.
“My daughter studied up to Class IX in a private school, after which they asked us to take her away as the school lacked recognition. I sent her to another English-medium school far off, though the fee is very high,” says Padma P., a domestic help. (With inputs from Rohit P.S.)