By Keshav Vivek
Deepika Kumari, who is currently the world number 3 in professional archery, could very well be the unsung star of Indian sports.
She was born on 13th June, 1994, in Ranchi, Bihar to Shivnarayan Mahato, an autorickshaw driver and Geeta Mahato, who is a nurse in Ranchi Medical College. She began as a child trying to knock down mangoes from trees before graduating to professional archery. While disciplines such as badminton, chess, shooting and wrestling have managed to steal some of the limelight from cricket, many non-cricketers still struggle to earn recognition and two square meals. Her story has been one of constant struggle in the face of adversity.
Her parents were very supportive despite their meagre financial resources. The big break came when she managed to obtain a place in the Arjun Archery Academy in 2005. The coaching centre had been set up at Kharsawan by Meera Munda, wife of erstwhile Chief Minister, Arjun Munda. The next year she had made it to the prestigious Tata Archery Academy in Jamshedpur. Medals started pouring in one after the other.
The high point of her career has been the performance in the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games where she bagged two gold medals, a feat that fetched her national recognition. Two years later, she received the Arjuna Award from President Pranab Mukherjee. Her performance at the 2012 Olympic Games was a let-down, but the child prodigy who surprised her father by bagging the 2009 Youth World Archery Championship at the tender age of 15 has definitely come a long way.
“I never imagined that my daughter would achieve so much. But I was overjoyed to read about it in the newspaper. I showed it to everyone, and they too joined in the celebration,” was what her father, Shivnarayan Mahato, had to say to the media. Today nobody in her home state would be surprised. She is Jharkhand’s icon now, rubbing shoulders with the national cricket captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, on newspaper advertisements, posters and billboards, celebrating the creation of the state.
Soft-spoken and media-shy, the girl from Ratu Chati is back in news with a Gold in the 2012 World Cup Individual Recurve in Antalya, Turkey and a Silver at the 2013 FITA Archery World Cup in Paris, France. Archery fans expect her to win many more. Hopefully, it won’t be just Jharkhand that celebrates her achievements this time.