Sathuvachari Gymnasiums that Produce International Lifters Run on Caste Lines
VELLORE: Sathish Kumar Sivalingam’s gold medal at Glasgow has brought the arc lights on Sathuvachari, which has been the cradle of weightlifters in Tamil Nadu, with two of its prominent gyms, Atlas and Gandhiji, having been the primary training ground for around 90 per cent of the State’s international lifters. But a secret that is not known to the outside world is that the two gyms are run on caste lines.
As Vellore District Weightlifters Association president and Arjuna Awardee T Muthu told Express: “Our elders started the training centre for community youth. The two centres are following the rules and regulations, laid down about 40 years ago.”
A dispute between people of the two dominant castes, Hindu Mutharaiyar and Senguntha Mudaliar, in the erstwhile village of Sathuvachari, on the banks of Palar river, during a temple festival is said to have led to members of the two intermediate castes starting exclusive gyms. Earlier, as P Murugesan, a former national level weightlifter said, there was just one gym where youth were trained in traditional martial arts like silambam and bodybuilding.
After the rift, Mutharaiyars had the Atlas Weightlifting Training Centre and Senguntha Mudaliars, the Gandhiji Weightlifting Training Centre. Together they produced a dozen international weightlifters, which include Olympians and Arjuna awardees. Besides, 89 people got jobs in government and other undertakings through the sports quota.
For the youth of other castes, now there are at least half a dozen other gyms, with one of them, Star Weightlifting Centre, started by a former weightlifter and CPI member, in the locality where the sport is quite popular among the youth. Even the State government set up a centre here in the late 1990s. Yet, those who make a mark in the game at the national and international levels are those who pass out of Atlas and Gandhiji.
Commenting on the two exclusive centres for youth from the two castes, international weightlifter and mentor of several in Gandhiji Weightlifting Training Centre, A Sekar said: “We are ready to admit youth from other castes.”
Commenting on the two centres functioning exclusively for youth from the two castes, international weightlifter and mentor of many youngsters in Gandhi Weightlifting Training Centre, A Sekar, said: “We are ready to admit youth from other castes provided they are disciplined, obedient and ready to follow the rules and regulations of the centre. We are even ready to extend financial support to them.”
His suggestion was that trainers would normally be brash and demand absolute obedience and discipline from their charges, whose personal life too they would try to control. Such a teacher-student relationship can be fostered only with caste acting as a bond, he claimed.
Besides, the evolution of Atlas Gym, which was started in 1970 with training in fitness and martial arts imparted on a private premises, shows that the community wanted to open the doors of the job market to its youth through the gyms. So, around 1976 when the training moved to the present premises, weightlifting was introduced by R Shiva, who is still the iconic master there. Traditionally, the Mutharaiyars were mostly into beedi rolling and not many were in lucrative jobs before the youth became weightlifters.
Senguntha Mudaliars, who are traditionally into weaving, too set up the Gandhi Gym around the same time and started churning out lifters. Thus an obscure Sathuvachari lifted its profile in the sports arena even before it became part of Vellore Corporation in 2008.