Cultural Issues in India related to Sports

“Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” Nelson Mandela

Sport has historically played an important role in all societies, be it in the form of competitive sport, physical activity or play. Sport has been increasingly recognized and used as a low-cost and high-impact tool in humanitarian, development and peace-building efforts. Nelson Mandela, the president of South Africa, believed that sports could unite his race-torn country. The South African win over arch-rival New Zealand in the World Cup final saw white and black fans cheering wildly together at the game in Ellis Park in Johannesburg. Sports programs are being conducted to resolve conflicts between Arabs and Jewish People in Israel, to solve racial issues between Arabs, Whites, and Blacks in France, reduce crime in the Urban areas of the United States, improve self-efficacy and resilience among poor kids in developing countries like India. Sport has a unique power to attract, mobilize and inspire. By its very nature, sport is about participation. It is about inclusion and citizenship. It stands for human values such as respect for the opponent, acceptance of binding rules, teamwork, and fairness.

     However, Sport is not a cure-all for development problems. As a cultural phenomenon, it is a mirror of society and is just as complex and contradictory. As such, sport can also have negative side effects such as violence, corruption, discrimination, hooliganism, nationalism, doping, and fraud. To enable the sport to unleash its full positive potential, emphasis must be placed on effective monitoring and guiding of sports activities. The positive potential of sport does not develop automatically. It requires a professional and socially responsible intervention that is tailored to the respective social and cultural context.

     After Independence in 1947, India has faced major issues like corruption, social inequality (Gender, Caste, Religion), unemployment, health, and literacy (Basu,2007). Even though in recent years India has achieved a high economic growth rate, the Human Development Index(HDI) of India is very low with a rank of 131. India has more than 50% of the population below the age of 25. It has one of the highest young people in the world(Basu,2007). The question that automatically arises in mind is that if the youth of India is free of prejudice of cultural and social norms. Do they have the life skills and education to create resources to help the community and promote social and economic development in the society?

     The focus of this paper will be on cultural and social issues and its impact on youth in Patna, a city located in the eastern part of the India. Then, the paper will try to understand the effectiveness of different youth program to address such cultural issues. Though few studies mention about cultural issues in India and Patna, there is a lack of research on the issues related to class difference in Patna. So, some information will be based on personal observations and may be considered biased.

    Patna, the capital city of Bihar is in the eastern part of India. Bihar is the 3rd most populous state in India with a population of over 100 million. According to census report (2014), the population of Patna aged between 10-24 is more than 20 million. Data from National Family Health Survey (NFHS) reveals that the fertility rate in Bihar is 3.9 children per women, while the National average is 2.1. The population of Bihar will remain high in the next decade.

A recent study conducted by Magic Bus, revealed that the youth in the city of Patna has low self-efficacy and resilience. Self- efficacy and resilience are important life-skills for youth development. The study was conducted in-between June-August 2016 for the youth age between 11-19 and living in one of poorest communities in the city of Patna. Magic bus is a non-profit organization that using the mentoring model and a sports-based curriculum engages underprivileged children to create a constructive journey from childhood all the way through towards better and dignified livelihood as adults. Magic bus operates in 3 of the 100 slums areas identified in the city of Patna. The study reveals that the under-privileged kids required presence of role model and a sense of fairness and justice in the society. While almost all adolescents acknowledge the importance of education, fewer feel a sense of belonging at school. Much of this may have to do with the difference between the context at home and school, teachers’ behaviours and school infrastructure.

While the study conducted by Magic Bus focused on kids living in the poor communities, another study conducted among students from middle- class family reveals similar results. In a study conducted among the 1412 students selected in Patna, the prevalence of depression was found to be in 49.2%(Jha et al., 2017). Guilty feeling (69.48%) was one of the most prominent clinical factors associated with depression followed by pessimism (58.14%), sadness (56.52%), and past failure (55.81%). Inability to cope with academics at the school was another leading reason followed by problematic relationships and economic difficulty. Other factors such as parental fighting, punishment at home or school, teasing at school, loss of parents, and substance abuse had a minor effect (Jha et al., 2017).

Prevalence of depression in an adolescent may affect their social as well as personal life with potentially serious long-term consequences. Youth with depression is at high risk of mental disorders such as antisocial behaviour and substance abuse disorders. Physical activities have been identified as a potential strategy for improving social and emotional well-being in at-risk youth (Lubans, Plotnikoff, & Lubans, 2012). ‘At-risk’ youths are the children and adolescents who live in a negative environment and do not possess the skills and values that assist them in becoming responsible members of society.

An intervention is required based on physical activity to address the issues among the youth. While Magic Bus provides an intervention by conducting a sport-based development program for the youth living in slums, they are operational in only 3 slums when the number of slums identified in the city is more than 100. Another area of intervention is for the middle-class school going kids. The lack of sports culture in society and school contributes to increase academic pressure and depression. A famous quote in Indian society when loosely translated to English means ‘If you will study you will be a king, but if you play sport you will spoil your life’ is deeply ingrained within the society. The belief of society that sports is bad has led to increase academic pressure, depression and mental and physical health issue among youths in Patna. Sport and physical activity offer youth opportunities to experience challenge, fun, and

enjoyment, while increasing their self-esteem and decreasing their stress (Csikszent-mihalyi, 1975; Long, 1985; Health Canada, 2003). Further, research shows that activities such as sports, music, and the arts foster positive psychological and emotional development (Thomas, Cote & Deakin, 2005). For example, Gilman (2001) found that participation in structured extracurricular activities was associated with higher life satisfaction among youth, and that the more structured activities youth participated in, the higher their life satisfaction.

     Life satisfaction gained through participation in sports can help in addressing another major issue of migration among youths. A lot of students from Patna migrate to others states in search of better education and opportunities (Smita, 2015). The study shows of all the respondents only 6% said the quality of education in Patna is good. A total of 87% of the respondent is willing to pursue higher education outside the city of Patna. The high migration of students to other states had made Patna deficient of skilled human capital (Smita, 2015).

     The literacy rate in Patna is on the rise due to intervention by government and non-profit organization. Due to the opportunity of increasing number of kids going to school and the challenge of lack of sports infrastructure outside the school, makes in-school program the best place for intervention to promote sports development. Even though the government affiliated school mandate a physical education class, the physical education classes lack proper training and structure. The students are not promoted to actively participate. The focus of the in-school program will be to create a structured physical education program to achieve high level participation and build life skills such as self-efficacy, provide holistic development and address issues like gender inequality, class difference and caste and religious discrimination.  The structure of the program will be designed comparing other in-school program, after-school program and community program.

One such example is the Appleton League (APL) which is a minor softball league for youth ages 5 to 16 (Sharpe, 2006). Most of the youth in the league were from the lower middle-class families. The APL was positioned to deliver a sporting experience focused on fun, skill development, and good sportsmanship for all who wished to play (Sharpe, 2006). The league motto is ‘Promoting Fun and Fair Play for All’. The league made special effort to encourage this motto within the league. For example, the league modified the standard softball rule to ensure a more democratic and equitable playing experience for players regardless of their ability (Sharpe, 2006).

Research conducted on this league shows that most of the parents and coaches believe that the organization lived up to the goals of the league to create a fun, developmental and supportive environment for children (Sharpe, 2006). However, few parents and coaches were not satisfied with the league experience. The key point is that the disappointing experiences tended to come from the only one division of the league, the tyke division, which were the games involving the youngest players. The tyke division had lower social capital because most participants were relatively new and lacked social ties. Within the league, the greatest social capital was found at the senior field (Sharpe, 2006). Most of the players worked their way through the divisions and came to know each other well. The social capital in the league facilitated coordination and communication which helped league members to resolve collective dilemmas. One example was the problem of the mismatched team. In the senior division, the coaches realized early into the season that one team was stronger than the others and would likely win. The coaches came together and decided that the best way to resolve this problem was to trade players so that the teams would be more evenly matched, and the league will be more exciting and fun. The league at the tyke field were similarly mismatched. Although everyone at the tyke field recognized the mismatch, no effort was made to resolve the problem. The result shows that social capital gained through the program can make people work together to resolve an issue (Sharpe, 2006).


According to the Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group, sport is seen to have the most benefits for Individual development, Health promotion and disease prevention. Organised sports programmes provide youth with an opportunity to participate in team and individual sports competition and result in positive outcomes through developmentally appropriate designs and positive child-adult (parent/coach) relationships. Participation in physical fitness exercise has been found to have immediate and long-term beneficial psychological effects (Lubans et al., 2017).

In 1997, the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) identified some 621 pilot programs focused on reaching ‘at-risk’ youth (Lubans, Plotnikoff & Lubans, 2012). The number of such pilot programs with an organization such as YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, Police Athletic Leagues, school and community center together reaches an impressive number of participants. Sport and recreation as tools for crime prevention and risk reduction had been popular for a long time. One of the reasons for the popularity is that the program is inexpensive and easy to implement. In an era of declining public resources for outreach and social intervention of any kind, sports-based programs have been viewed as a cost-effective way to implement policy. These initiatives often attract funding and support from foundations, non-profit organizations, and even corporate sponsorships. All the 19-program highlighted by NRPA was based on public-partner partnership. Another factor for the popularity of the program is the long-held and deeply entrenched cultural belief about sports as positive, progressive social force (Lubans et al., 2017).

The cultural issues in the cities are gender inequality, religion and caste problem, mental and physical health, and economic issues such as unemployment and poverty (Mukherji & Mukherji, 2012). The poor condition of Bihar is attributed to low human capital, political instability and social conflict rooted in politics based on caste, class and ethnic division (Rasul & Sharma, 2014).

     The caste and religion issue are reflected in the political system that exists in Bihar (Mukherji & Mukherji, 2012). The last ruling party of Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) under the leadership of MR. Lalu Prasad played caste and religion politics to influence the voters for 15 years. Lalu Prasad deliberately kept the public-sector jobs vacant rather than appointing qualified people who were of a different caste. This limited the government ability to effectively utilize the centrally funded program. Within the 15-year span of RJD ruling, the economic growth for Bihar settled down to about 35% of the national per capita (Mukherji & Mukherji, 2012). Mukherji et al. (2012) mention that after the change of state governance in 2005, Bihar had seen a significate improvement in its overall growth. However, the election of the government in recent polls reveals that cast and religion based politics is still very much prevalent in the state of Bihar (Mahapatra, 2015). Caste is so deeply ingrained in society that it is often taken for tradition. The anthropologist and historian have recognized the bane of the caste system. The politicians have played the ‘backward’ card to their advantage and kept the caste system intact to reap benefit during the election. Caste and Religious violence has occurred in the state in the various form. In 1997, Ranvir Sena, a caste supremacist fringe, killed 58 people from backward class in retaliation for the Bara massacre where 37 upper castes were killed for no reason (Hindu, 2007). Although because of increasing literacy people have become aware about problems of caste system, the division of society based on caste is still evident.

     In many countries Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) programs are been conducted to resolve conflicts based on differences such as gender, race, and religion (Sugden, 2006). Sports can be used a mean to help people identify themselves with their teammates other than religion. SDP like Football for peace(F4P) running in Galilee Region of northern Israel, Mifalot in the middle east and UNICEF SDP program in South Africa has been to some extent effectively use sport to promote development and peace (Sugden, 2006).

     The F4P focuses on resolving conflicts between Jewish and Arab people living in Israel (Sugden, 2006). F4P is based in Galilee, an area in the northeast of the country with a population of 1.146 million. Two-thirds of the Galilee residents are low on the socio-economic scale. Jews and Arabs live in separate towns and villages. The Jewish community is considerably better off than their Arab counterparts in terms of socio-economic condition. The work of F4P is to make grass-roots interventions into the sports culture of Israel to build bridges between otherwise divided communities. The 2004 project involved 700 children from 16 communities. The project team created a structured and objective series of research and evaluation to understand the impact of the program. One of the first results showed encouraging awareness about the other community. Several of the Arab coaches explained that F4P gave the children an opportunity to see what conditions were like in neighbouring Jewish and Arab communities. A Jewish coach, who is the grandson and nephew of two men who are considered the first fatal victim of a terrorist attack by Palestinian Arab, embraces the importance of F4P to prevent such things happening in the future. There was considerable agreement among all the local coaches that project like F4P was important because they offered a great opportunity to promote dialogue between children and young people upon whose views and actions the future will depend on (Sugden, 2006).

According to World Bank report (2016), adult women in Bihar are twice as likely to be illiterate than an adult male. The child sex ratio in Bihar is 935 females per 1000 males though favourable than the national average is declining. The secondary education attainment rate for women is lowest in the country with only 15% the women population. Bihar the lowest female labour participation in the country. The data clearly shows gender inequality in the state (World Bank report, 2016). To create a better future, the female adults need to be an active part of the society.

Girl-centred sport and physical activity programs that are grounded in positive youth development approach have grown tremendously in United States since the 1990s (Rauscher & Cooky, 2016). Girls on the Run, the Women’s Sports Foundation’s GoGirlGo curricula and Sporting Chance through Girls Inc. operate in hundreds of cities across the United States. Other programs are city-specific, such as PowerPlay in New York City, Girls in the Game in Chicago, and Girls Row Boston. Girls are participating in these programs in record numbers. GoGirlGo! has reached almost one million girls since its inception in 2001. Girls on the Run began in 1996 and now serves close to 130,000 girls annually in over 200 cities and, hundreds of girls participate in local programs each year (Rauscher & Cooky, 2016). Beatrice Grey, sports partnership manager for U.N women, an arm of United Nation says that her organization offers sports program for girls in 20 different countries (NY times, 2017). Research conducted in United States suggest these programs yield benefits (Rauscher & Cooky, 2016). The youth programs improve girls’ body esteem and self-worth. These programs educated girls about gender issues, like domestic violence and teach them life skills such as confidence and leadership (Rauscher & Cooky, 2016). Abulfal, a medical doctor, who played for Afghanistan national soccer team says that she wanted to use the power of sport to show the power of Woman. She says sports helps to become a hard worker and makes you believe that anything can be achieved (NY times, 2017).

According to census report (2014), the population of Patna aged between 10-24 is more than 20 million. Data from National Family Health Survey (NFHS) reveals that the fertility rate in Bihar is 3.9 children per women, while the National average is 2.1. The population of Bihar will remain high in the next decade. While the literacy rate is having been increasing faster than the national average, Bihar remains the state with the lowest literacy rate (Rasul &Sharma, 2014).

According to my knowledge and research, I couldn’t find any article addressing the issue of class difference in the city of Patna. However, the class difference is very much evident. The primary occupation of residents of Patna is been self- employed. So, the class division is basically among the business class and labour class. The income gap of the business class and labour class is very high. The youth of the business class go to private school and college and get good education. However, the youth of labour class have very less option in terms of education. The government public schools are the source for them to break the social and class barrier. However, the quality of education in private school is not up to the standard. Few extra meritorious students can break the social class, while most of youth cannot break the vicious cycle of poverty and class barrier. A SDP program can help the poor youth to bridge that gap between class by exchanging social capital with the privileged youth.

One of the characteristics of SDP is generates a lot of social capital (Sharpe, 2006). Social capital, which Putnam (2000) defined as “connections among individuals—social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them” (p. 19), suggests that social ties formed through shared participation in local volunteer groups can be transformed into a neighbourhood resource and used to solve community problems, help community members find common ground, and affirm commitment to community (Chaskin et al., 2001).Grassroots recreation program focuses on participation over consumption and on process over a product which makes it a pathway for community development and civic engagement (Sharpe, 2006).

     Physical activities have been identified as a potential strategy for improving social and emotional well-being in at-risk youth (Lubans, Plotnikoff, & Lubans, 2012). ‘At-risk’ youths are the children and adolescents who live in a negative environment and do not possess the skills and values that assist them in becoming responsible members of society. Existing physical activity programmes for such at-risk youth can be broadly classified into three groups a) outdoor adventure programmes b) sport and skill-based programmes and c) physical fitness programmes. Outdoor adventure programmes have activities like rock climbing, orienteering and canoeing generally involve experiential learning to improve self-worth, resilience, and self-control. Organised sports programmes provide youth with an opportunity to participate in team and individual sports competition and result in positive outcomes through developmentally appropriate designs and positive child-adult (parent/coach) relationships. Participation in physical fitness exercise has been found to have immediate and long-term beneficial psychological effects (Lubans et al., 2017).

However, Sports has two may mutually reinforcing impact with the society. We may think sport as being egalitarian (equal for everyone), meritocratic (people awarded according to their ability) and classless (unrelated to class groupings and divisions). However, the sport is in fact closely tied to social issues such as gender inequality, class, and racial division. A research conducted in Norway for the Sports City Program (SCP) reveals that the program provides further opportunities for those who already participate in the sports field (Skilly, 2005). Initially the program was designed to in attempt to encourage inactive segments of the urban population to become more active (Skilly, 2005). Therefore, any sports or physical program been designed to resolve social issues must be mindful that the program doesn’t reflect the society in the way social issues exist but try to break the status quo and bring a positive change in the society.

     Th article examines several culture issues in Patna like gender inequality, class difference, cast and religion violence and discrimination. Several programs were discussed in the study to analyse the effectiveness of the intervention Sports based program to address the cultural issues. A common theme that appeared is the use of social capital by the SDP program. The programs concentrated more on participation, communication, fun and cultural exchange rather than competition and rivalry. An effective SDP program can break societal construct and can provide opportunities for the youth (at-risk, gender, class, health) to gain self-confidence and develop leadership to contribute to the community and create an environment of peace and social equality.


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