“She started playing using a piece of bamboo as a hockey stick and a custard apple as the ball”
The Indian women’s hockey team is on a winning spree at Women’s Asian Champions Trophy 2023 being held at Ranchi. Amid them are three players from Jharkhand who have struggled hard to reach where they are. Gaon Connection spoke to their families.
Manoj Choudhary 2 Nov 2023 7:29 AM GMT
After four consecutive victories at Women’s Asian Champions Trophy 2023 being held at Ranchi in Jharkhand, the Indian women’s hockey team is set to lock horns with Korea today, November 2, in their fifth and final Pool stage match of the tournament.
The 20-member Indian team has three players from Jharkhand — Sangita Kumari, Salima Tete and Nikki Pradhan — who come from remote villages in Jharkhand, and from straitened circumstances.
But with their brilliant performance these young women, who are daughters of farmers with minimal landholdings, have caught the attention of players and fans alike as they block, dribble and charge across the hockey field at the Marang Gomke Jaipal Singh AstroTurf Hockey Stadium in Ranchi.
“My daughter is the daughter of all India,” Ranjit Manjhi, Sangita Kumari’s father, declared proudly to Gaon Connection. He is a farmer with five daughters and one son, and just one acre of land in Karangaguri Navatoli village in Simdega district that is the only source of family income.
Narrating how his daughter started playing hockey, Ranjit Manjhi said: “Sangita started playing hockey when she was in class two. I had no money to buy her shoes and she played barefoot. She used a piece of bamboo as a hockey stick and a custard apple as the ball.” He is immensely proud of his 21-year-old daughter who is bringing laurels to the motherland, he beamed.
Twenty-one-year-old Salima Tete also started playing with bamboo sticks and custard apples! She began playing hockey when she was just eight years old, said her father and primary coach, Sulaksan Tete.
“I had been teaching her and the five other children in my family, hoping they would fulfil their dream that I could not. I too wanted to play for the state and nation, but due to lack of finances I had to let go of the dream,” Sulaksan Tete told Gaon Connection. He is a farmer with 24 acres of land in Badkichhapar village under Sadar block in Simdega district.
Nikki Pradhan, member of the Indian women’s hockey team, is the first one from Jharkhand who has played two Olympics. “She used to watch the Indian team in uniform and ever since then she had wanted to be one of those players,” Soma Pradhan, a farmer and father of 29-year-old Nikki said. He lives in Hesel village in Murhu block of Khunti district.
All three players — Sangita Kumari, Salima Tete and Nikki Pradhan — come from families who may be economically backward, but who are immensely proud of their girls.
The three hockey players already have several successes under their belts. Sangita Kumari, a forward, has played junior Asian Cup (2021). Salima Tete, a midfielder in the Indian team, has represented India at the Youth Olympic Games (2018), Tokyo Olympics (2020), Junior world cup 2021.
Nikki Pradhan, the most experienced and oldest of them, a defender, has played in the Asian Games (2018), Women’s World Cup (2018), CommonWealth Games (2018), Rio Olympics (2016), Tokyo Olympics (2020) and other prestigious events.
While these young players bring laurels to the country, their families live in poverty and lack even the basic amenities.
While Sangita Kumari’s mother Lakhmani Devi is also thrilled about her daughter’s achievements, she is less than happy about the government’s apathy. “The administration had assured us they would provide us with a house, water facility, a pucca road to the village, a pond and cows. But the family of a national player still continues to live in a state of poverty deprived of even the basic facilities,” she told Gaon Connection. ”
Sangita Kumari’s family lives in a kuchcha house and the water they use comes from a common village handpump that they share with 12 other families.
“During the monsoon, the approach road to the village is a mess as it is just a mud path. When she is at home, my sister uses the nearest pond to bathe in as we have no washroom at home,” Sanjay Manjhi, Sangita’s brother, told Gaon Connection. According to him, the state government has given Rs 5 lakh to Sangita but the money is going into her coaching and training.
Salima Tete has received about Rs 50 lakh from the government as she has played at the olympics. “The Central government has given Rs 50 lakh to Salima but the money is being used for her personal expenditure as she has to maintain her health. I am happy that her dedication and hard work paved her way while her coaches played an important role in improving her performance”, her father said.
It is imperative that the government should take care of the economic well being of sports personalities and their families, said Laxman Baraik, a social activist and resident of Simdega.
“This will motivate children to put their best foot forward. Otherwise, we do not know how many of them, like Salima’s father, are forced to sacrifice their dreams of playing for the nation,” said Baraik.
When Gaon Connection contacted Praveen Kumar, district sports officer in Simdega, he said: “Proposals for road and other facilities to the family members of hockey players are under process. The sports department pays special attention to ensuring due facilities to the sports personalities and their family members.
The official also said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had appreciated Salima Tete for her role in the Tokyo Olympics. “It was an honour for Simdega as well as Jharkhand residents. I believe that Salima plays like Dhanraj Pillay and has potential to ensure victory for the team,” he added.