'Magnificent Mary' struggled to glorify Manipur
Yabem Laba *
"Indian boxer M C Mary Kom has given her country more than just a sporting spectacle with her bronze medal win at the London Olympics. It may not have been apparent to the 29-year-old boxer, but her teary eyed apology for not bringing home the gold has pulled the relatively isolated north-eastern Indian states much closer to the rest of the country". Thus reported the BBC. Manipur, for a change, was in both national as well as international news for reasons other than insurgency, AIDS, drugs, ethnic strife, killings and economic blockades or even the dreaded AFSPA.
It had been a long journey for Mary Kom to the podium of the 30th Olympics in London, from her tribal village helping out her father, a subsistence tribal farmer, and mother, ranging from collecting fuel wood to working in the fields as a farmhand, to assisting her mother make wood charcoal, to weaving clothes on loin looms. Speaking to The Statesman earlier, she had recalled how hard it was for her to purchase a pair of good shoes or gloves and train on a diet which did not even include eggs.
But she did not complain at all and said that now things have changed and thanked the Sports Ministry and the Olympic Gold Quest team for ensuring that she got the best in the world for her run-up to the London Games which included a foreign coach and a personal physiotherapist.
"Magnificent Mary" has received all the accolades she so rightly deserves. Congratulatory notes have poured in from the President, the Prime Minister, and the chief minister and Governor of Manipur to Amitabh Bachchan and Anand Mahindra as well as the prayers and good wishes from millions across the nation.
But what she achieved goes much beyond the fourth medal in India's total medal tally at the Olympiad. She has broken the stereo-typing of all North-easterners as "chinks". A term that was also used to describe this correspondent at the Delhi School of Economics some 30 years ago. But post Mary Kom, perhaps the rest of India would get to acknowledge that these "chinks" from the North-east can also bring glory to the country and also understand and accept their distinctive features, culture and food habits.
She perhaps has done more for the emotional integration of the North-east region with the mainland than the National Integration Council and some 50 odd years of military action by India to bring back a "misguided region" back to the fold of mainstream Indianess. Mary's struggle with the government of Manipur to make it realise her full potential is also as hard, long and arduous as her journey to the Olympics. After she won her second world championship she was offered the post of a constable in the Manipur Police. Thankfully, she declined but she did not go public on her refusal. After her second win in the World Championship she was offered the post of a sub-inspector which she accepted.
Thereafter, after every gold in the World Championship she was given a promotion and by the time she won her 5th World Championship in 2010 she won it as a serving Deputy Superintendent of Police. That was when Mr Ibobi Singh (in photo), chief minister of Manipur, announced that she would be promoted to the rank of an Additional Superintendent of Police and that the Government would allot 2 acres of land for her boxing academy which she had been running at her house with her own money and little help here and there from the SAI and the Army.
But that turned out to be an election promise and all was forgotten till she stood on the podium at the London Olympics. Mr Ibobi Singh hastily convened a meeting of his Cabinet and announced a cash award of Rs 50 lakh and also resolved to translate Mr Singh's outstanding pledge of promoting her to the rank of Additional Superintendent of Police and the 2 acres of land for her boxing academy into action.
Perhaps they realised that if they falter this time too then they perhaps might not get elected again in the next elections. Mr Tarun Gogoi, chief minister of Assam, also announced a Rs 20 lakh award plus land for her boxing academy should she desire to set it up there. The Arunachal government has also decided to award her Rs 10 lakhs and so also the ministry of tribal affairs, government of India, another Rs 10 lakhs. Plus there will also be the incentive money from the Union ministry of sports.
Having been conferred with the Padma Shri, and the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award and now with the Olympic medal she can be said to have reached the zenith of her career as far as recognition is concerned.
But not one to rest on her laurels, Mary Kom has already announced her plans to set up a branch of her boxing academy in Assam if the government of Assam can provide her with the required infrastructure.
This is perhaps the right time for the corporate sector to step in and aid her with her Academy. Corporate houses be it the Mahindra & Mahindra group or the Tatas or the numerous tea houses and the petroleum industry could chip in their mite and help establish her boxing Academy on a firm footing with all the infrastructure and a corpus fund to help run and maintain it.
Perhaps our political and corporate leaders could take a cue from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru when in 1953 he established the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling and told Tenzing Norgay that he wanted the Institute to produce a thousand Tenzings. It should be clear that such a move could pave the way for producing a thousand more Mary Koms that could help unify the northeastern region with the mainland which in any way would be much cheaper than deploying a Division of the Indian Army. As of now Manipur awaits the return of her illustrious daughter and her twin sons are awaiting the return of their mother back home.
* Yambem Laba wrote this article for The Statesman / The Sangai Express
This article was posted on August 21, 2012.
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