In 1928, India sent an official contingent to the Olympics for the first time which included a hockey team. The team was captained by Jaipal Singh who had honed his hockey skills during his studies at Oxford. Singh’s hockey prowess earned him the Oxford Blue – the University’s highest sports honour. This put him on the radar of the Indian hockey administration. 

So, when it came to sending a hockey team to the Olympics, the Indian hockey authorities reached out to Singh to captain the team. Singh at the time was at England undergoing training for the Indian Civil Services (ICS). The Civil Services authority did not give him permission to leave training and captain the hockey team. Singh left training anyway and headed to the 1928 Olympics. He was reprimanded, and eventually resigned from the ICS. 

Under his captaincy the Indian team played 17 matches in the league stage- of which 16 were won and one drawn. However, Singh did not cross the finish line with the team as captain. He gave up captainship before the final stages due to differences with the management. It is argued that this had something to do with Singh belonging to the tribal community. 

After his stellar performance at the Olympic games in 1928, Singh took up a teaching role abroad and returned to India in 1937. Upon his return, he played a significant political role for promoting tribal rights in India. He was elected as the President of the Adibasi Mahasabha around 1939. 

7 years later, in 1946, Singh was elected to the Constituent Assembly from Bihar and continued tribal rights advocacy. He was one of the few independent candidates to be elected to the Constituent Assembly. Singh also served as a member of the Finance and Staff Committee, Advisory Committee and Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas (other than Assam) Sub-Committee. 

During the early debates in the Assembly, Singh bemoaned the lack of tribal representation in the Constituent Assembly, particularly the lack of a single tribal woman member. During the discussions on the Objectives Resolution, he highlighted the troubled history of exploitation and dispossession of the adivasi people but he still hoped that independent India would offer a new chapter for the people, “where there is equality of opportunity, where no one would be neglected.” 

Singh continued to strive for tribal rights post-independence and demanded for a separate state - Jharkhand, for the promotion of tribal welfare. Singh passed away on 20 March 1970 in Delhi. The Adibasi Mahasabha, of which he was previously President, attained its objective of forming Jharkhand in 2000, thirty years after his death.  


Read more 

Desk Brief: Jaipal Singh Munda & The Demand for Jharkhand