Despite being a known name within the Hockey circuit, a Gold medalist at 2011, Asian Champions Trophy and a member of the 2014 Hockey World Cup team, Yuvraj Walmiki is yet to receive the house promised by the Maharashtra government.
Representing country in sports at the highest level is a dream of every sportsperson. And the case of Yuvraj Walmiki was no different. A boy from a 16-by-16 shanty house near Marine Lines station, Mumbai fought against rough odds to emerge as a success story. Since his association with Hockey, he has represented India in over 90 international matches. Despite this, he was neither cared nor celebrated by the Government.
His frustration is visible as he questions the Government. “If the Government continues to act like this, how would we win medals,” he asks.
The suffering life of a sporting hero
Had he been a cricketer, he would have been living a lavish life. And if one were to check the match fees and incentives of a hockey player, one would end up questioning how they managed to sustain themselves.
In a sporting country like India, a first-class cricketer is paid Rs. 40,000 per day, an amount far more than a hockey player’s international match fees. The fact remains that Yuvraj decided to pursue his dream despite the poverty in the country’s so-called national game.
He hails from a family where his father is working as a driver. He earns a ballpark figure of INR 6000-7000/- per month, and his mother is a housewife. He lives in a shanty house of 16-by-16 where electricity was a dream till as recently as 2011.
They are a family of four brothers, with their parents and a sister-in-law who are adjusting in this room for many years. Brother Devindar who also plays Hockey for India and was a part of the team that participated in the Rio Olympics.
The third brother in the Hockey circuit is younger brother Anup Walmiki who recently represented India at the South Asian Games.
Promises after promises
When Yuvraj was enjoying his game in his junior days, he took a break at one point during his playing years. Later he was recalled in 2009 after which played some matches in Germany and his desire to win the games led him to settle his place in national side.
In 2011, his winning goal in the penalty shoot-out clinched a Gold medal for India over arch-rival Pakistan in the inaugural edition of Asian Champions Trophy in China. His achievement resulted in a promise by the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra Prithviraj Chavan- the promise of a home and a Grade II government job.
The Government changed, and a new ruling party took over. In 2014, Walmiki was invited to the swearing-in ceremony of the new Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and given the assurance of fulfilment of what the previous government had promised but failed.
Since then, he has made more than 50 trips to the Mantralaya, has met Vindo Tawde – State Sports Minister of Maharashtra. Additionally, he also met several other ministers and ruling party leaders. After every meeting, the only answer he gets is ‘work under process’. There is no assurance when matters can finally happen. It merely indicates that the Government has no plan to deliver the promise.
Frustration over the system
Six years have gone by since then, and the Walmiki family is yet to see the promises materialise. As a sportsperson, he too has not lost hopes.
“Like every sportsperson, I too wanted my family to live a decent life. If I were a cricketer, the picture would have been different. But unfortunately, I am a hockey player, the game for which I sacrificed my career; my family made sacrifices for my brothers and me,” he says.
“I and my brother represented India in the national side together. I think it is for the first time, two brothers from Maharashtra have represented the national team,” he wistfully mused.
“I am not against cricket or any other sport, and neither will I be. But the way I was treated, it frustrates me more. I don’t have a problem with the Government or any authorities; I have a problem with the system,” he adds.
The system is flawed and must be questioned. And that is what Yuvraj Walmiki hopes to achieve by speaking out on various platforms. “It (the system) should be fluent and transparent everywhere. How can parents think sports as a career for their children? Simply put, it kills the wish of every parent and child who wants to pursue and be associated with sports.”
Life has not been easy for the Hockey star. And this fact makes the implications of promises not being fulfilled even bigger.
“My family has played a significant role in our career. We, three brothers, represented India in the Hockey but never cared by the Government,” he says.
“I still live in the same small house, but now it is becoming difficult to adjust for all of us. My elder brother Rakesh who is married now and it is becoming even tougher for him to adapt,” he added.
A frustrated voice has a ray of hopes of help from somewhere. Talking about his struggle, promises, frustration, he has a message for the Government and the youngsters who wish to pursue sports as a career. He wants to add sports as a compulsory subject in the education system so that every child can dream and live the healthy life. Also, He is planning to open an academy where underprivileged kids can learn Hockey, and more talents like Yuvraj and Devindar would represent the country.
He has a message for the media too. Like cricket and other sports, he wants media persons to give some more coverage for the game that is widely accepted as the national game. He thinks media is the platform where kids can understand from their earlier age how Hockey can be a career option for them.
However, Yuvraj is just one of those kids, who have taken sports to change the fortune against poverty. But if his achievements are un-noticed, the hopes of upcoming sports heroes could be destroyed too.