National level archer and coach Mahendra Singh is one of the 450 sports coaches who have been laid off by the Uttar Pradesh sports directorate. Singh now sells samosa to feed his family.
A little more than five months ago, a bespectacled 45-year-old Mahendra Pratap Singh would be found at the KD Singh Babu Stadium in Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh. As a national level archery coach, he would be busy coaching his wards in archery. Now, he sits outside his rather dilapidated home in Shahavpur town of Barabanki frying samosas and pakodas and waiting for customers to buy them from him. He has neatly arranged biscuit packets, soap, combs and other sundry items, in case someone is tempted to buy them.
“After facing a very real threat of starvation, I decided to put up this stall,” Singh grimly told Gaon Connection. He has to support his family of six, including his mother, wife, two children, and a mentally ill elder brother.
Predictably, he is a bitter man who swears he will not encourage anyone to take up archery. “Why would I? after a twenty-year-old sports career, here I am frying pakodas,” he said.
Due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), 450 sports coaches like Singh, working on contract, were laid off by the Uttar Pradesh Sports Directorate.
All Singh wanted was to be like his father, Vishwamitra Ramdev, who was a much respected national-level archer and a famous wrestler. He trained Singh to become a national-level archer himself. “I trained tirelessly and won several medals before I became a coach,” said Singh.
“These include gold, silver and bronze medals I won in the 1990s in Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, Lal Bahadur Stadium in Hyderabad, in Delhi and at Jamshedpur in Jharkhand,” Singh tried to remember as he ladled the samosas out of the hot oil.
In 2002, Singh was appointed as archery coach at the KD Singh Babu Stadium in Barabanki on contract. He worked as a coach on an ad hoc basis for nearly 18 years, till he lost his job. His voice chokes as he tells Gaon Connection how in his peak performance days many states wanted him to represent them, but he steadfastly declined the invitations. “I always refused as I wanted to bring honour to my state. Now I wonder if I should have accepted those offers. I never dreamt a time would come when I would be living in this condition,” he trailed off. “The condition of sports in Uttar Pradesh is deplorable. That is the reason so much of talent migrates to Punjab and Haryana where sportspeople are treated better and can have promising careers,” he commented.
“Since 2002, I have coached archers in Gorakhpur, Sonbhadra, Mirzapur besides Barabanki. As an instructor in the sports department of Uttar Pradesh, I have mentored more than 20 archers who have participated in national and international competitions. Many of them are nayab subedars in the Indian Army, Indo Tibetan Border Police and the Border Security Force, yet, here I am struggling to feed my family,” said an emotional Singh to Gaon Connection.
“With effect from 24 March, 450 coaches like me had their services terminated by the authorities. None of us received any payment or remuneration before termination,” he said angrily. Now, Singh prays that his job will be restored to him. Till then, he only has his medals and hope to hold on to.