Dreams of gold and hopes to be Tendulkar: The fascinating story of India’s tribal siblings

How a schooling decision took adivasis Sravan and Soni Mandangi from a non-descript Odisha village to the national sporting map

By Olympic Channel Writer ·

On Wednesday in Bhubaneswar, 19-year-old Soni Mandangi could not help but bask in reflected glory on witnessing her archer brother Sravan Mandangi claim gold for the recurve team event in the ongoing Khelo India University Games 2020.

It meant nothing less than gold for herself as well, as the siblings have only just begun reaping rewards after having strived through a childhood in an Adivasi (tribal) family in Odisha.

The achievement on the prominent national stage is a validation of their parents’ early decision to enrol them in the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences. Located in the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT), their school is among the world’s largest residential institutes for tribals.

Sravan Mandangi clinched the gold medal for his recurve team event at the ongoing Khelo India University Games 2020. Photo: KIUG

“Back in our village, I didn't study or play any sport. When my parents got to know that there is a school for Adivasi children here, my father promptly enrolled us,” Sravan’s sister Soni reflected. 

It turned out to be a vital move as the school’s support to the siblings with free education, food, healthcare and sporting equipment boosted their dream of being athletes.

A New Life In Sport

“I took up archery when I was in the seventh standard at the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences. Our father, an adivasi, is now a farmer. Each and everything is provided for by the school and this is our home. We go to our village only once a year… during the summer holidays," Sravan Mandangi shared, clutching on to the gold medal he had just won.

Having tasted success and recognition in the Khelo India University Games, Sravan is ready to move a level up in archery. 

“I will be taking part in the team as well as individual events. I hope to make it to the National Games from there,” he said.

The hope to be Sachin Tendulkar

To imagine a rugby player from India is a stretch for most casual fans, let alone a teenage female from a tribal background. But Soni is doing it all to make a splash in the lesser followed sport.

Playing with the KIIT rugby squad, Soni was a vital cog in a 43-0 drubbing given to Panjab University in a pool match on Thursday.

Soni Mandangi was drawn to the sport when, a few years after getting enrolled in the school, students from her institute representing India won the International School Rugby Tournament in London in 2007.

Soni Mandangi hopes to equal Sachin Tendulkar’s fame one day. Photo: KIUG

The 19-year-old who has also represented the Junior India rugby team is well aware that her chosen sport is yet to grab eyeballs in the country. Regardless, she hopes to equal the fame of one of India's cricketing legends.

“My eventual dream is to be as famous as Sachin (Tendulkar). True, rugby is not a very popular sport in India; it is big in Odisha but certain districts are still not familiar with it. So I want to raise awareness and spread the sport across the state," said Soni.