It is being claimed that demonitisation has broken the back of the Maoists by making all their cash worthless. But this is merely a short-term solution since in a few months, the Maoists will again get hold of the new currency. There is, however, another man, who is attacking the Maoist menace where it hurts with a more positive approach — by preventing recruits. Dilip Tirkey, three-time Olympian and former Indian hockey team captain, is giving young tribals from the Red Corridor hopes and dreams by picking up hockey sticks and putting down the guns.
By organising the world’s largest rural hockey tournament, the 39-year-old former full-back and deep-defender, now Rajya Sabha member, is telling the youth of his community that if he can do it, so can they. Under the aegis of the Dilip Tirkey Sports Research and Development Foundation, Tirkey has organised the Biju Patnaik Rural Hockey Championships, which has 1,500 teams comprising around 24,000 players competing with each other for three months.
The championships, which began on December 14 last year has teams from 900 villages in the tribal belts of three states — Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand — part of the Naxal-infested Red Corridor. The matches, which are being played at 32 venues across the three states, will culminate in the final match on March 5, Biju Patnaik’s birth anniversary, at the Biju Patnaik Hockey Stadium in Rourkela.
In the presence of Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Odisha Chief Minister Navin Patnaik and a host of other former and current National hockey players, the once-shy Tirkey told thousands of young, enthusiastic tribals gathered for the inauguration not to join the Maoists.
“We do have a problem in our midst, and that is a few of our young friends have strayed from the path of righteousness. I also ask them to come back and pick up a hockey stick, instead of a gun,” said Tirkey.
These areas are characterised by unemployment, illiteracy, over-population, and most importantly, poverty, which is the prime breeding ground for Naxal recruits.
“This is the only chance we have of establishing what I call the ‘Hockey Order’ so that we can organise the youth towards an activity, which gives them a chance to get jobs in various sectors,” said Tirkey.
The Olympian, who too came from a very humble background, said “What would I have been if I hadn’t picked up a hockey stick?” It’s also about self-respect and giving back to a society which has given him so much.
“Trying to discipline youngsters cannot be just the job of educationists. Somewhere sport has to play a part,” says Tirkey. Tirkey began working on the tournament more than eight months ago. He admits that as all players are from poor and rural background, the logistics of getting them here and upto speed was a nightmare. However, now seeing their enthusiasm, he would like to see this turn into an all-India affair.
The Rajya Sabha MP and Navin Patnaik’s blue-eyed boy, Tirkey’s detractors have accused him of organising the championships with a political end in mind — helping him win the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from the area. “I don’t see anything wrong in what he is doing. If he is empowering the youth, why criticise that? Today he has brought forward hockey as an instrument for change. I think we should appreciate that,” said Shakti Singh, Santosh Trophy footballer and friend.
Tirkey grew up in the underdeveloped district of Sundergarh and put it on the country’s map with his hockey exploits. After retiring in 2010, he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the Biju Janata Dal. In 2014, Tirkey did run for the Lok Sabha on a BJD ticket from here but lost by a narrow margin. However, he rejects the possible political overtones of the tournament. “I am clear that this is a hockey event, and there is nothing political about it”.
The aim of the initiative is to scout for hockey talent, generate interest for the game among the youth and help them find the right path. Even if the championship is able to stop one tribal youth from picking up a gun and becoming a Naxal, it is a success, he adds.