Monday, August 11, 2008

Monika’s village mourns death of sport

Olympics dream dashed, weightlifter’s family wants Centre to bestow a medal on her


Nachou (Bishnupur), Aug. 10: The village that saw Monika Devi lift her first weight forgot to cook its meals today.

Choking on tears, men huddled outside tea-stalls and women in courtyards to mourn the death of Indian sport and a potential medal.

It took just a three-word verdict — “It’s too late” — from Beijing yesterday to throw Monika Devi out of the Olympics and spell catastrophe for Nachou that has sent seven of its players to the national sports arena.

At Monika Devi’s home, pain hung in the air, with most in her family too shattered to hazard words.

“Olympics is the ultimate dream of every sportsperson. Monika has been unjustly prevented from realising her dream. Where shall she demonstrate her talent now? Her career is as good as dead and so is Indian sport,” sobbed Mamata, Monika’s elder sister.

The family did not sleep last night. Most remained glued to the TV screen, though they knew it was futile to stare on.

Any attempt to make them talk out the grief only yielded tears.

“What is the point of writing about her? We don’t want anything now,” said Mamata Devi.

Hopes rose yesterday when chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh rushed to Delhi and the Sports Authority of India cleared Monika’s name from the dope test controversy.

However, Indian Olympic Association secretary general Randhir Singh’s veto — “It’s too late” — sealed the weightlifter’s fate.

Better known as Ngouba in her village — Monika is a product of SAI regional centre, Imphal. She joined SAI in 1996. Under SAI coach Ranjan Singh, she won a silver in the Commonwealth Games 2006 held at Melbourne.

She won a gold at Commonwealth Championships 2004 at Malta and a bronze at the 17th Asian Senior Women and 36th Asian Senior Championship 2004, held at Almaty, Kazakhstan.

“Ngouba (a male name accorded to her for her ‘manliness’) is loved by the entire village. She is strong-willed. She had the confidence that she would bring us a medal. Why are they (the SAI officials) so wicked?” B. Mema Devi, a neighbour, asked.

Born to Laishram Naba and Mema in a poor farming family, Monika is the fourth of seven sisters and one brother.

Before joining SAI, she played football. “She had a good physique since childhood and SAI chose her for weightlifting,” Naba said.

Despite her sterling sporting credentials, Monika Devi did not receive any help from the Okram Ibobi Singh government, the family alleged.

“She was forced to join the CRPF as a havildar after our own state denied her a job. She would still love to come back and represent Manipur,” her father said.

The family also complained that the CRPF treated her shabbily. “After she won the 2006 Commonwealth silver, the CRPF promised her the post of sub-inspector, which never happened,” he said.

The entire village now blames “dirty” Indian politics and the “lackadaisical” response of the Ibobi Singh government for Monika Devi’s fate. “Had the Ibobi Singh government acted swiftly, Monika would be competing in Beijing,” said a village youth.

Nachou is a village of sport. It has produced several national players, including Kiran Singh, who now plays football for the SSB.

Monika Devi’s younger sister, Shyamashakhi, too, is also a national fencing player.

“We have lost count of number of players we have produced. Monika’s episode, however, has discouraged parents,” L. Premjit Singh, secretary of Nachou Sports Development Association, said.

“We now want the Centre to give a medal to Monika. If they had sent her, she would have brought back a medal.” Naba said.

“The course of action will be decided by the people of Manipur. Though Monika is our child, she now belongs to Manipur.”

The mother was too weak to speak. She has been lying in bed ever since Monika Devi was dropped from the Indian squad.

The immediate concern of the family, however, is Monika Devi’s safety. “We cannot say what will become of Monika after August 13 (the day when she was to compete). The government should be held responsible if Monika takes any drastic step out of the humiliation,” the father said.