The Land of Champions

The annals of sports in India sparkle with the names of Sandhu, Walia and Kaur. The women of Punjab have contributed a great deal to Indian sports.(By courtesy of Vijay Kaura from 'Women of Punjab', who takes stock of the outstanding Sportswomen seen in action in the last three decades.

Rajkumari Amrit Kaur (facing), the former Health Minister, must be given a great deal of credit for boosting women's sports in Punjab. Taking into consideration the lack of facilities for men, she initiated the Rajkumari Sports Coaching Scheme, which later merged with the
National Institute of Sports, Patiala. The scheme provided great impetus to the girls of Punjab.

After Independence, among the first Punjabi girls to hit the sports headlines were the Oberoi twins-Manmohini and Indermohini. They held the spotlight for many years as they helped Delhi University claim the women's tide in the Inter-Varsity Athletics. Manmohini also won the national discus title.

1970 was an outstanding year for the girls of Punjab. Kamaljit Sandhu, a superb athlete, won the gold medal for the 400 metres during the Asian Games at Bangkok. She ran the distance in 57.3 seconds. That year she also won two national tides for the 200 and 400 metres. The records she set remained unbroken for ten years.

Harpal Brar claimed the gold medal for the 800 metres at the National Games, clocking the distance in 2 minutes, 17.4 seconds. Manjit Walia bagged two golds-80 metre hurdles in 11.2 seconds and 100 metre hurdles in 14.3 seconds. The latter was a record that is still unbroken. Manjit also represented India at the Asian Games. Neena Chopra claimed the first place in the gruelling 1,500 metres, with a timing of 4 mins., 51.4 secs.

Kamaljit Sandhu

All these victories were achieved by the Punjabi athletes in 1970.
Girls from Punjab have certainly dominated the scene in volleyball, hockey and basketball.
The Volleyball Federation of India was formed in 1951, and two years later the Women's National Championship was introduced.

The first Punjab team was organised under the guidance of Miss P. Anand, Director of Physical Education, Punjab University, in 1954. During the National Championships held at Patiala in 1956, the team from Punjab smashed all opposition and won the tide without dropping a game. From then on, they retained the top position in the country till 1963.
During this time, one girl dominated the scene-Nirmal Saini of Kanya Mahavidyalaya, Jullunder. Born on October 10, 1938 at Shekupura (now in Pakistan), Nirmal has had a distinguished career in sports. She is now Director of Sports for Women in the State Department. She earned an M.A. in Political Science from Punjab University in 1958, and joined the Government College of Physical Education, Patiala in 1959. She secured 710 out of 1000 marks to gain her diploma, proving that successful athletes can also be successful academicians.
Nirmal also played excellent net-ball, badminton and throw-ball. She captained the Punjab volleyball team three times and was a member of the U.P. volleyball team that toured Ceylon in 1955. Four years later she led an Indian team to Ceylon, which won all the matches that they participated in.

Nirmal Saini took time off in the course of her busy Sports career to marry the famous "Flying Sikh" Milkha Singh.
Harpreet Randhawa and Uma Ratra also distinguished themselves as volleyball players.
Harpreet was one of the best all-rounder in the Indian team. She participated in the Moscow
Youth Festival in 1957, and toured Ceylon in 1959. She now works at the Government College for
Women at Kurukshetra. Uma Ratra was also a member of the Indian team to the Moscow Youth Festival.

Some of the finest women hockey players come from the Punjab, one of the most outstanding being Ajinder Kaur. As centre-half of the Indian team, she was known as the Ajit Pal Singh of women's hockey. Like Ajit Pal, she had no equal in the centre-half position. Ajinder Kaur (left) started her hockey career in 1966 at the Punjab University. She holds the distinction of having captained the Indian team for the Women's W6rld Cup in France.
Ajinder Kaur was a member of the All India Women's Hockey Association team, which played against Australia in 1967 and also played in Sri Lanka the same year. She also played for India in the First Asian Women's Hockey Championship in New Delhi in 1968. As part of the Indian team she has travelled to Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka and France.

Another Punjabi girl who captained India in the international field is Rupa Saini of Faridkot.
Rupa also played under the captaincy of Ajinder Kaur. Rupa was a very efficient deep defender and a good halfback. Like Ajinder Kaur she is also well travelled.
Rupa Saini comes from a family of sportswomen. Her elder sister, Prema, was the captain of the Indian hockey team in 1970. Another sister, Swarna, was a moderately good player and the youngest sister, Krishna, is a fine athlete.

Other players from the Punjab whose names come to mind include Parminder Sekhon popularly known as Pammi, Chanchal Kohli, Lata Mahajan and Darshan Chauhan.
Kanwal Thakur Singh, from Chandigarh, is a household name in badminton. She was the highest ranked player in Punjab and the second highest in India. Playing from the age of ten, she won the national title in the All India School Games in 1967. From 1968, she retained the Punjab University tide for four successive years. From 1969 to 1971 she reigned supreme at the Inter-Varsity Badminton Tournament. In 1971 she won the all-India women's tide.

Kanwal was the state champion in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. In 1974, she won a Triple Crown in the Nationals held at Ludhiana. She represented India against Malaysia and was also a member of the Indian team sent to the Commonwealth Games in 1978.
The Punjab team has the distiction of having won the National Basketball title four times conse-cutively with their recent win at the championships held at Ludhiana. They had to pull every con-ceivable trick out of their repertoire to fight Maharashtra in the final. Their game was so marvel-lous that eight of the Punjab girls were selected as probable for the team for the Asian Games held in Delhi in November. They are Suman Sharma, Sarita Sharma, Ashi Sharma, Suman Sood, Gursimran Laddi, Kiranjit Bitto, Kawaljit Bath and Raminder Saini.

In golf, too, Punjabi women are beginning to make their mark. Ranjeet Grewal, of Ludhiana, is one of our finest players. She was the winner of the All India Women's Golf Championship held in Calcutta this year.

Punjabi women's contributions in many arenas of sport continue to increase. As more and more coaching camps and training facilities are introduced, the number of champions emerging from this state can only increase.