MINUTES AFTER winning a wushu silver, tears flowed down Naorem Roshibina Devi’s face. These, however, weren’t tears of joy.
While in Hangzhou, her mind was on the ethnic violence back home in Manipur.
Hailing from Bishnupur district, one of the epicentres of ethnic clashes between the Meitei and Kuki communities that have kept the state on the boil for months now, Devi, a Meitei, said she’s spent sleepless nights worrying about her parents.
“I dedicate this medal to Manipur,” she said, flashing the silver minutes after going down to China’s Wu Xiaowei in the final. “I want to dedicate this medal to those who have been protecting and fighting for us.”
The silver was an improvement on the bronze she won five years ago in Jakarta. And when she stepped off the podium at the Xiaoshan Guali Sports Centre, Devi spoke from the heart.
She recounted how her father, Naorem Dhamu, has had to step out in the middle of the violence to “protect the village”; mother Romila Devi takes part in night vigils; and siblings have been confined to their room for months because they are too young.
“There have been times when I have wondered if I will be able to talk to them again,” Devi said. “I don’t know what will happen to us. Abhi pura dar ke baitha hua hai (We are all living in a state of fear),” she said.
Her emotional breakdown was an outpouring of feelings that she had kept suppressed as she remained cut off from her family, while not letting her focus waver from her target: a second consecutive Asian Games medal. Neither did she stop training, nor did she go home.
With wushu national camps usually being held in Srinagar, one of the sport’s biggest hubs in India, Devi said she hasn’t been able to visit her home in Kwasiphai Mayai Leikai village in nearly a year. First, because of her training schedule, and later, due to the violence which broke out in May.
She said she went to Imphal in May, but her parents advised her not to travel to her district. Instead, her father travelled to Imphal to meet her. She had to be content with speaking to them on the phone – that too just on Sundays.
“To make sure that she didn’t get distracted, her phone was with the coaches. That’s usually the policy we follow for all players. They are given the phone only on Sundays,” said wushu coach Raghubir Singh. “We were regularly keeping a tab on her family but did not want her to worry about anything.”
“The coaches don’t let me talk to them daily because it will cause me distress. So they take my phone away. I talk to them on Sundays for a little while. Even then, they don’t talk about the problems there,” said Devi.
The circumstances, she said, helped her to persevere and strive for a medal.
In Hangzhou, Devi, who competes in the 60-kg weight class, first defeated Kazakhstan’s Aiman Karshyga by a points gap, and then defeated Vietnam’s Thi Thu Thuy Nguyen in the semi-finals.
But in the final, the height advantage enjoyed by China’s Xiaowei and the consequent long reach gave Devi no chance of even mounting a challenge.
After winning the silver, Devi had just one plea: “I wish the situation goes back to normal… gets better than what it was before. Seeing everything burning down, it doesn’t feel good.”