Chanchala Kumari, daughter of a tribal farmer, wrestles her way out of poverty; to represent India at world championship

The 14-year-old wrestler from Jharkhand’s tribal community is set to become the first athlete from the state to represent India at the upcoming sub-junior world wrestling championship in Hungary next month. Read and watch to know about her journey riddled with struggle and hardship.

Anand Dutta
| Updated: June 26th, 2021

Hatwal (Ranchi), Jharkhand

There’s an air of festivity and hope in the otherwise quiet village of Hatwal, situated almost 30 kilometres from Jharkhand’s capital Ranchi. Chanchala Kumari’s humble house has suddenly become the most prominent address in the village and a commotion of guests, well-wishers  and reporters seems to be never-ending.

The 14-year-old tribal girl has been selected at the wrestling trials held in New Delhi on June 22 and is all set to represent India in the under-15, 40 kilogrammes category of the World Cadet Wrestling Championship which will be held in Hungary’s capital Budapest from July 19 to July 25 this year.

Chanchala’s success is a pioneering achievement as she is the first wrestler from the state to represent India at an international event. 

Chanchala Kumari while practicing wrestling in Ranchi.

Kumari’s mother Maino Devi, who is constantly occupied with hosting the frequent guests, is visibly proud of her daughter. “I want her to earn name and fame and grow up to become successful and support us too,” she told Gaon Connection.

Chanchala, who sat beside her mother, joined in and expressed her desire to win medals for India at the international events.

“I want to win medals like Sakshi didi, Phogat didi,” she said.  (Geeta Phogat and Sakshi Malik — the two national wrestling icons in India)  

Also Read: Poonam Tiwari, an international level weightlifter, coaches village girls — many of whom have won accolades

Humble origins

Chanchala’s family belongs to the adivasi community of Oraon, which is  categorised as a Scheduled Tribe. 

Her father Narendra Nath Pahan is a plumber but also works as a farm labourer to support his family of six — his wife, three daughters and a son. Chanchala is his youngest daughter. 

The young athlete at her house.

“I am a farm labourer but also do plumbing work whenever I find any. I have a small patch of land (half an hectare) on which I grow some vegetables and rice and sell in the market. The earnings are just enough for the family to survive,” he told Gaon Connection.

“But I have ensured that all my children get education. Chanchala showed an interest in sports, so I supported her in this field as well,” he added.

Also Read: These World Cup football contenders from Jharkhand are struggling to get two meals a day

Chanchala is grateful to the hard work and sacrifices made by her parents in raising her and her siblings.

“Mummy-Papa log bahot mehnat karte hain, karte the… papa mummy ko dekh ke lagta hai wo itne struggle kar rahe hain unke liye humein bhi kuch karna chahiye,” the young wrestler told Gaon Connection. [My father-mother worked very hard, they still do. Seeing them struggle, I feel like doing something for them too]

A shero’s welcome

Three days back, on June 23, when Chanchala came back to Ranchi after being selected for the world championship, a crowd awaited her. Her family members, media, officials from the Jharkhand State Wrestling Association were present at the Ranchi junction railway station to welcome the 14-year-old and her coach Bablu Kumar. A band played music to add to the festivities. 

Chanchala Kumari receiving the grand welcome at the Ranchi junction railway station.

The budding athlete also met Chief Minister Hemant Soren who congratulated and thanked her for bringing laurels to the state. He also assured her that all the expenses and technical support will be provided to her by the state government. 

The Jharkhand CM also instructed the Secretary of the sports department Pooja Singhal to provide Chanchala with the resources needed.

Chanchala was 10-year-old when she was selected to be trained as a wrestler under the  Jharkhand State Sports Promotion Society — a state government scheme to identify sporting talent from the rural areas of the state. The organisation was launched by the government in 2016 by the then Chief Minister Raghubar Das. 

Chanchala practices wrestling at the sports village (khel gaon) —  a sport complex which came up in 2009 in Ranchi’s Hotwar area.

Also Read: Jharkhand CM, Football Federation come forward to help the U-17 World Cup contenders

Talking about her diet, Chanchala told Gaon Connection that she used to eat the simple vegetable-rice, or maad bhaat (boiled rice with starch) at home. “But ever since I started my training at the government centre, I have been on a nutritious diet there,” she told Gaon Connection.

‘Govt’s support has been crucial’

Chanchala’s coach Bablu Kumar told Gaon Connection that the Jharkhand State Sports Promotion Society’s scheme has been crucial in recognising the sporting talents.

“I am proud of Chanchala. About eight-nine more players like her are in the fray to represent India at the international level.  You will soon find more such players coming from Jharkhand,” he told Gaon Connection.

“Kushti me zyadatar Haryana ka hi bolbala raha hai,” said the coach. (Haryana has a monopoly on representing India at the world stage). “But now, Jharkhand is hopeful of doing that too. Chachala’s success is motivating for the sports community in the state,” Kumar said. 

Also Read: An obscure tribal village in central India where every child is a skateboarder and their parents are organic farmers

“The children from the tribal farming communities are naturally fit. They have great stamina and are more suited for sports,” he added.

Meanwhile, at Chanchala’s academy in Ranchi, her friends — Rimpa, Riya and Simran —  who are also trained wrestlers are inspired by Chanchala’s success and can’t wait to watch her on the big screen representing India at an international platform and making Jharkhand proud.

Read this report in Hindi