“I have not said these things to anyone before today, but it is about time I speak out. People should know the reality.”
By ‘these things’, Swapna Barman referred to the incidents she had narrated during a conversation with The Quint. And, what did she mean by ‘reality’?
No, not her Asian Games gold medal, nor her three Asian Championships medals, and not her story of implausible triumphs against impediments aplenty, which has every ingredient to be turned into the next hyper-inspirational Bollywood sports biopic.
Instead, Swapna shed light on a vastly contrasting version of reality, which did not spark the soothe of success, but the fury of oppression. She laid bare tales of casteist discrimination – a constant feature throughout her career – and how she is planning to obliterate the malady, once and for all.
In a shocking revelation, Swapna Barman says she is planning to join politics after her imminent retirement, in a bid to fight the system by being in the system.
“Slogans Like ‘We Are All the Same’ Are a Giant Hoax”
Five years after her Asian Games gold triumph in Jakatara, when Swapna reflects on her journey, she does not narrate an euphoric tale of what it has been, but a poignant tale of what could have been.
A tale of wrongful ostracisation, casteism and prejudice.
I am a Rajbongshi, we belong to the Scheduled Caste community in West Bengal. When have things ever been easy for us? When I first got into athletics, I was under the impression that sports is all about unity. But soon, I understood the harsh reality – that slogans like ‘We are all the same’ are nothing but a giant hoax.Swapna Barman
Swapna Explains Why She Left West Bengal
Swapna continues to reveal more details about the 'giant hoax.'
“I can honestly admit that I got into athletics to earn money. Privileged people can judge me, but they have not seen poverty like I have. I was not born with a golden spoon and had to work extremely hard for everything. Nothing ever arrived without sweat,” she reveals, her tone being candid, but firm.
I toiled hard day and night to win medals for my state. But soon, I realised that I was not being treated like others. I was not earning what I deserved. I saw athletes from other states earning more than me after winning a National Games medal, whereas despite winning an Asian Games medal – which is regarded as a big achievement – I was barely being able to make ends meet.Swapna Barman
With the feeling of being wronged, Swapna left West Bengal for Madhya Pradesh. Yet, whilst talking about her state, she still maintains “People might think I don’t love Bengal anymore, but I am still deeply, madly in love with Bengal.”
“But after dedicating everything for my state, if that was the treatment I got in return, is there any reason for me to stay in Bengal?” she adds.
‘Had My Surname Not Been Barman, I Would Not Have Faced This Humiliation’
Albeit the financial problems were somewhat resolved following the switch, Swapna claims she still remained a victim of casteism.
The casteist discrimination was not explicit, but I knew I was treated differently. Initially, I would not pay any heed to it and concentrate only on my game, but soon the insults became unbearable. When I went to other states, people would laugh after hearing where I came from. I realised, had I not been a Rajbongshi, had my surname not been ‘Barman’, I would not have faced such humiliation.Swapna Barman
A year after winning her nation a silver medal at the Asian Championships, Swapna could not find her name among 258 athletes selected for the 2020 Target Olympics Podium Scheme (TOPS).
'You must have felt let down?' we asked.
“Of course, I was sad. But I don’t go around narrating my gloomy tales to everyone. What I’ve learned over the years is, iss duniya me aap jitna aapne ghamo ke baarein me logo ko batayenge, wo utna hi khush honge aur mazaak urayeenge (the more you share your pain with people, the more they will make fun of it). I don’t want to make a mockery of myself.”
To Beat the System, You Need To Be in the System
The upcoming Asian Games in Hangzhou will be the heptathlete’s last international competition. Whilst the playing career nears its conclusion, Swapna is now determined to bring radical changes in the system.
And, she says there is only one way of doing it – by entering the system.
I am planning to join politics. I have a proposal to contest in the next elections, and I am seriously considering it. If I do join politics, it will not be for a personal vendetta, but to provide the underprivileged kids of North Bengal with a better tomorrow. All I want is to ensure no one ever goes through what I had to endure, and when we speak about equality, we really mean it.Swapna Barman
Though she is yet to officially set foot in the field, Swapna says she has already decided what to do if she does become a politician. Or, more importantly, what not to do.
"The politicians have wronged us. They come with their fake promises before every election, but soon as they are brought to power, all they care about is their seat and money. Ye politicians kam, seasonal fruits zyaada hai (they are more like seasonal fruits than politicians). You’ll only see them when they need your vote. I want to do things differently," she says.
The Challenge(s) Ahead
Whilst Swapna says has not explicitly mentioned the idea to her family members, hints have been provided.
“How is their reaction?” we asked.
“Not great. They are worried,” she replied, before explaining further.
My family members are easy-going people with no idea whatsoever about the world’s corrupt practices. After all these years, unko ye bhi nahin pata ki heptathlon hota kya hai (they still don’t know what heptathlon is). As long as there is food on the plate and a roof above the head, they don’t want anything else in life. All they know is that politics inevitably mean danger, so they want me to stay out of it. I need to convince them once I get back to my home after the Asian Games.Swapna Barman
“And what about convincing yourself? You know you’re about to enter an ocean with sharks, will you be able to survive?”
“I have seen how politics work from close quarters. I know the challenges I will face if I join politics, and I know I will face people who have wanted nothing more than to see me fail. But I have never shied away from challenges. Dekh lenge (I’ll see),” she replies.
In the second part of this interview, Swapna Barman talks about her comeback, playing through the barrier of pain, and expectations from Asian Games. Stay tuned.