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The story of Sansarpur: Hockey, drugs and a lost legacy

The Sansarpur village in Punjab has produced as many as 14 Olympians in the past, but it is grappling with a severe problem now.



It may be just a 100-yard stretch of land on the outskirts of Jalandhar in Punjab, but the village of Sansarpur has a very special place in the history of Indian sports. As the #skoriginals video above shows, the tiny village has produced as many as 14 Olympians over the years, and is a proud home to some of India's finest hockey exponents.

It all started in the 1920s with a certain Subedar Thakur Singh flying to New Zealand to play under the leadership of the legendary Dyan Chand. The saga reached its pinnacle in 1968, when seven sons of the Sansarpur soil participated in the Mexico City Olympics at the same time – five of them for India and two for Kenya.

Dhyan Chand, the magician himself, hailed Sansarpur as the Mecca of Hockey; he was particularly enamoured by the fact that the player he believed to be the most complete player of all, Babu Mohan Singh, had his roots in the village. Sardar Atma Singh was another great who Chand could never upstage with his dribbling skills, and for whom he had a lot of admiration.

For a village that houses not more than 5,000 inhabitants, having so many hockey players rising through the ranks together from their childhood and going on to representing their state Punjab and then India at the highest platform in the world, is no mean feat. Lacking the basic facilities required for practising the game, the youngsters had to make do with sticks prepared out of mulberry tree branches while the balls used were woven from cotton threads.

Such was the passion for hockey amongst the people of the village that they trumped all odds to carve out their own niche in the sporting world during the golden era of Indian hockey.

But there hasn't emerged a single player at the Olympics from the village of Sansarpur in the past few decades. There’s not much promise offered by the foreseeable future either. Why has the scenario changed so drastically? How did the most fertile nursery of hockey in India suffer such a sad decline?

The seven hockey players from Sansarpur in one frame at the Municipal Stadium in Mexico City during the 1968 Olympics

The answer lies in the drug menace that has ravaged Punjab over the last few decades. From educational institutions to playgrounds, the crisis has wreaked havoc by disrupting the normal state of affairs in people’s everyday lives.

Quite understandably, the sport of hockey has been dealt a major hit as well. With its easy location and limited citizenry, Sansarpur always stood as a vulnerable target for drug peddlers. With large sections of the stage under the influence of narcotics today, it is fair to say that India has lost a sizeable portion of top-notch hockey talent to the drug menace.

The President of Sansarpur Sports Club, Jarnail Singh Kullar, is a former coach of the Services’ Hockey team. He has outlined how the young guns of his village have shifted from frequenting playgrounds for sporting activities in the past to dealing with addictive substances during the evening hours at present.

Hope, however, is not entirely lost. If the government can institute some effective countermeasures to deal with the problem, the kids of Sansarpur would be able to gather themselves and get back on the hockey turf. We could well have another up-and-coming generation of stars in ‘India ka Game’ on the Sansarpur horizon once again, but it will take a lot of work to get there.

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