With a steady gaze, 13-year-old Rahul Singh clutches the bamboo bow, aims at the target and releases the arrow from the taut string that pierces through the 10-point circle in the centre winning him a gold medal in the Olympic category.
Winner of three gold and a silver medal, the class 8 student of Gadikoraya in Dumka district of Jharkhand was part of a contingent from the State which won 14 medals, most by any State at the Cherukuri Lenin-Volga Memorial Mini and Kid National Archery Championships here.
“Archery is part of our culture,” says the boy from the Paharia tribe.“My uncles used to hunt with bows and arrows in forests. And whenever they returned with a big catch, it was an honourable moment for them. That inspired me,” says Rahul, who trains at the Sports Authority of India academy in Ranchi.
Rahul has no dearth of support from family with his father, a policeman, being a former national football player and his sister a national athlete. “In 2015, a Child Development Centre (CDC) announced trials for selections. They said the selected ones would be given equipment and accommodation at a district academy. So, I applied,” he says.
At the championships, Jharkhand’s girls outshone its boys winning nine medals in 11 categories. Nikita Kumari, 14, won three gold and a silver.
Girls hog limelight
“My aim at [pittu] seven stones was good. A friend suggested that I take up archery and that’s how I started practising in 2017,” says Nikita, who in childhood often accompanied parents, labourers, on hunting in Rupru of Ranchi district.
“Women have a special place in hunting. The festival of Jani Shikar, where they cross dress as men and hunt, is an annual feature of the State.” says Amarnath Sharma, one of the coaches.
In the Indian round, played with bamboo bows and arrows, Jharkhand bagged six gold medals and a medal at least in each of the nine categories. What makes the State excel at the rudimentary form of the sport?
“It’s a vernacular form, closer to what people grow up with,” says coach Kumar Dungi. “Moreover, bamboo bows come for ₹4,000 whereas other bows start from ₹1.5 lakh. Even their 12 arrows cost ₹35,000, whereas bamboo arrows come for just ₹70 each.” Since most archers come from deprived families, they are unable to afford bows for compound, an Olympic form, and recurve, a non-Olympic international form, he says.
Most players from the State switch to the expensive forms after winning cash prizes at competitions. “I want to take up recurve archery and prove myself at an international stage,” says Rahul, who won a gold medal at the contest.