She is the only lady judo coach in the state but that isn’t all that sets apart Gitanjali Panda. Wife of late Biranchi Das, former coach of marathon wonder kid Budhia Singh, Gitanjali has been bravely fighting her own battle ever since her husband was shot dead in 2008. Having been associated with judo for the last 26 years, Gitanjali has not only been living her husband’s unfulfilled dream but has also carved a niche for herself in the world of sports as a respectable woman coach. Notwithstanding several hurdles en route, she has emerged as a fighter and a winner.
My City Links catches up with her for an exclusive interview. Excerpts
How did you step into the field of sports and became a judo coach?
Since the beginning, I had interest in sports but my family was not very supportive. But in 1991, I came into contact with Biranchi Das through my younger brother and one of my friends. He suggested us to start training in judo and around seven to eight students of our colony joined him including my brother and me. Gradually, I started doing well and later on also completed a diploma course at National Institute of Sports. Then, I started giving training to students in 1995 under the supervision of Biranchi.
How was your journey during the initial days?
During initial days, it was not a very smooth journey for me. As I had said, my parents were not keen that I play or pursue a career in sports. For them, the only priority was my education. So, although I was a good throwball player and had been selected to participate in the national tournament, I could not attend it and thereafter was literally forced to quit sports. But again when I joined judo coaching classes, I was determined to prove myself and with the help of Biranchi.
What is the future of judo in Odisha?
Now, there is a good future for judo players in the state. Those who are interested to pursue the sport have opportunities to play many tournaments, both at state and national level. These days many tournaments are also being organised within the state, which was not a trend earlier. That’s not all. Those who are playing well can now also look forward to get job benefits from the state government.
How much support are you getting from state government?
Somehow, I am getting some support from the state government as the government only has appointed me as a judo coach in the state. As far as equipments for training are concerned, those had already been taken care of by Biranchi, when he was the coach of the Judo Association. However, till date, there is not a single hostel for judo students in the state, which is required to groom the deserving candidates.
How did your professional relationship turn into marriage with Biranchi Das?
Well, it was a love marriage. Although formally, I got to know about him through my brother but before that we had met each other accidentally! Of course, our relationship gradually blossomed when I started judo training with him in 1991. We got married in 2000. During those years, I used to really like his way of working, his selfless work for the society and he also used to appreciate my hard work and determination. Eventually, we fell in love with each other and got married in 2000 against our family wishes.
Which has been the toughest part of your career?
I have spent a very long and tough period in my judo career. When I started playing judo, I came to know that there is no Judo Association in the state as a result of which all talents of the state were getting wasted! During that time, Biranchi was fighting for an association and recognition to judo in the state. For that, we both had done lot of hard work and created many judo medallist students and shown them to the Judo Federation of India (JFI). Finally in 2007, in the month of August, we got recognition from JFI as a state body association. But just when he was gearing up to do something for the state judo, he was shot dead in 2008.
After his demise, how did you manage everything?
When he was killed, our son was only two years old and I was an eye witness to that incident. So I was determined to fight for justice. Besides, I did not want is dream to die and so I decided that I will not get into depression but fight out the battle and also do something for the betterment of state judo. I haven’t looked back since then.
What is your plan for the state judo?
After the death of my husband, I have been continuously working for judo improvement in the state. Like now, I am representing Odisha at JFI as a joint secretary and also I have topped International referee exam in “A” grade. As it is the state body, we are planning to include more and more students in judo so that from among them we can get the best talents. Previously, there were only three to four districts associated with us but now there are more than 17 groups playing with us. So we are confident that we would be able to bag more number of medals at national level and perform much better in future.