By Dipankar Ghose
The Indian Express
For decades, wrestling helped the elders of Sarfabad village, Noida, turn their youth away from "bad habits" — it has been 20 years since the last liquor store was closed in the village and in July 2012, the panchayat banned the sale of tobacco in the village.
With wrestling as the popular sport in the village, the youth could not afford to waste their energy on intoxicants.
Around 150 men from the village are professional wrestlers, some international-level medallists. But with news of the IOC decision to drop wrestling from the category of core sports, wrestlers here might lose inspiration.
Village pradhan Sukhbir Singh, a wrestler, said: "Wrestling has been a culture in our village since the days of Independence. About 10 years ago, we saw many youngsters from our village being arrested for several crimes. This coincided with a drop in numbers at our akharas. So, the panchayat mandated that each family would send a child to the pit. We banned alcohol and, in June 2012, we banned tobacco as well. Our boys are all dedicated wrestlers with dreams of making it big internationally. Some like Subodh Yadav won medals for the country at the Cadet championship in Bangkok last year. Six represent Uttar Pradesh and 30 represent the district in different weight categories."
There are three akharas in the village, which has a population of around 7,000.
Wrestlers said the attraction of international competitions, such as the Olympics, changed the culture at the akharas over the past 10 years.
"Earlier there were only dangals, which were fought in the mud. But since India started winning medals at Commonwealth Games and Olympics, we hired coaches and bought mats.
"The technique of wrestling changed too. In the dangal, you had to pin the opponent down. In the competitive arena, such as the Greco-Roman and Freestyle, points are awarded and our students were taught like that," Subodh Yadav said.
The change was prompted by the sport becoming a source of income, and not just a panchayat mandated hobby.