After scripting a new history as the women hockey enters semifinals by beating the champions Australia, eves are now going to take on Great Britain on August 5 for the Bronze medal. The team players, however, didn’t have a comforting past. The struggle to the Olympics is real and some put everything at stake to represent the nation at the international podium.
From belonging to a place with a strong Naxalhold to holding the stick to escape an alcoholic father, the women team is equipped with determined and devoted members. What is it like to be a woman of dreams in a society where patriarchy still holds strong dominion? Let’s travel through their yesterday to get an idea of their journey.
Captain Rani Rampal, 26, is a forward player. She hails from Shahbad, Haryana. She’s been representing India internationally since 14. Her journey was full of hurdles. Rani was in Salwar-kameez when she holds the stick for the first time. Today, she is the key player in the national team. Known for her unmistakable ability to be at the right place at the right time, she made India name many gallantries to its account. She assisted the team win a Junior World Cup medal, Asian Cup, and was one of the key reasons why India could qualify for the back-to-back Olympics for the first time.
Neha Goyal is another player hailing from Haryana. The 24-year-old Midfielder, who hails from Sonipat, playing hockey came with two meals a day. This helped her to stay away from her alcoholic father and toxic home environment. She is representing the nation for the first time at the Olympics. Her debut was Asian Games, 2018, when she was just 18 years old. India won a silver at the Games and she was awarded the Hockey India Midfielder of the year award.
Defender Nikki Pradhan (27) gets frightened while remembering the old days when travelling even with parents was terrifying. She grew up in Hesal, Jharkhand, an area known to be a Naxal stronghold. Initial days were harsh. Grew up with financial constraints, Pradhan’s elder sister, who also played hockey, did labour work to get a hockey stick. Nikki, however, got her first pair of shoes and stick when she moved to an academy in Ranchi, 2006. It was in 2015 when she finally secured a spot in the team, just before the Rio Olympics, becoming the first player to represent the state at the Olympics.
Nisha Warsi (26) is another hockey star who made her international debut two years ago. Hailing from Sonipat, Haryana, Warsi’s father worked really hard to make sure the daughter’s needs are not compromised. But 2015 trembled the family with the father getting a paralytic attack and forcing her mother to work in a foam manufacturing factory to make ends meet. She waited for three years to get into the national team and since 2018, Warsi is unstoppable.
When northeastern face racial discrimination, the 21-year-old forward player from Kolasib, Mizoram, Lalremsiami, came to the limelight to make people think otherwise. One of the finest forwards in the team, Siami, as she is called by her teammates, is central to the idea of playing high-tempo hockey. She became a part of the national team at the age of 16. At that time, speaking Hindi or English was a tough task for her to do. Sign language and monosyllables came to her rescue. While sharing the room with her idol, Rani Rampal, Siami blended into the team. She became the first female player from Mizoram to play at the Olympics and the 2nd Olympian from the state in 25 years after Archer C Lalremsanga.
Another sports star from the northeast is Sushila Chanu (29), who hails from the capital of Manipur, Imphal. One of the experienced players in the team in the last decades alongside Rani Rampal, she worked for the Railways in Mumbai earlier. Sushila captained the team at the Rio Olympics, which was the women team’s first appearance at the Games since 1980. She has over 150 caps for the national team, has played across the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, and was instrumental in stunning out the Australians in the quarter-finals.
Growing up in a family of hockey enthusiasts, Deep Grace Ekka, 27, is a defender. She is the sister of former Indian goalkeeper, Dinesh Grace. The girl from Odisha followed the footsteps of her brother and wanted to be a goalkeeper as well, but was pushed to play as a Defender by her brother. It was her fondness for the sport that made her spend a huge amount of time at practice, but to other Lulkidihi-residents spending that much on the field for a girl wasn’t very appreciating. They criticise her for not doing her ‘chores.’ Ekka, however, had a supportive family. She went on to be a part of the team that won the Asia Cup in 2017. With over 200 caps, she’s now playing at her second Olympics.
A budding star, Salima Tete, 19, is another player from Hesal, Jharkhand. She is a midfielder. Tete’s hockey journey began the same way most people in India fall in love with sports – in a dusty maidan where the stones needed to be removed and the temporary goalposts had to be constructed. She was born in a Naxal stronghold area, which is also a hockey hotbed. In her initial days, she worked on the family’s farm and bought herself a stick with the earned money. Before Olympics, she had won 29 caps for the senior national team.
The 23 year old Udita Duhan is a Hisar native. Duhan, a defender, followed in her father’s footsteps by playing handball. Never had imagined Hockey as a career pursuit, she stopped playing handball soon her coach stopped coming for practice. On the advice of her mother, she decided to try hands at hockey and her speed caught everybody’s attention. In 2016 she was named captain of the team that won bronze at the U-18 Asian Cup. A year later she was elevated to the senior team and became a permanent fixture ever since.
Forward Vandana Katariya, 26, hails from the city of Nawabs, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Making it to the quarterfinals wasn’t easy, stepped in Vandana who stood against South Africa and secured three goals. She became the only Indian woman to score an Olympic hat-trick. The achievement arrived just three months after she faced a personal tragedy. Growing up in Haridwar, locals dissuaded her family from allowing their daughter to play sports instead of focusing on household chores. But her father was adamant to ignore the societal pressure and let the daughter pursue her dream. He passed away three months ago, and Katariya was unable to attend the funeral. She will now play for the team facing Great Britain for the Bronze on August 5.
Navneet Kaur (25), is a forward. She hails from Shahbad, Haryana and is one of eight players in the team who also battled at the Rio Olympics. She’s been one of the most consistent forwards of the country. With her debut in the Junior World Cup, 2013, when India won a bronze, she has been a part of several path-breaking performances. She considers Australian great Jamie Dwyer as her idol and on Monday, she put up a courageous performance defeating her hero’s national team.
Midfielder Monika Malik (27), is another player from Sonipat, Haryana. Her father Takdeer Singh Malik, ASI with the Chandigarh police, is fond of wrestling. But Monika affirmed that he never had imposed his likeness on her. She was free to choose the sport of her interest and Malik decided to pursue the hockey route. She started her hockey training at a government school in Chandigarh. She holds a business administration degree from Kurukshetra University. On the hockey field, she was a part of the national team in the Asia Cup in 2018, and 2014, winning silver and bronze respectively.
Defender Gurjit Kaur (25), belongs to the state of Hockey legend Dhyan Chand and Balbir Singh Sr. Hailing from Amritsar, Punjab, she claimed the lone goal at the Tokyo Olympics that made India win the quarterfinal against Australia. The defender has been chipping in with crucial goals throughout her international career, scoring eight at the Asia Cup triumph in 2017, and was the top scorer when India won the 2019 FIH Women’s Series Finals.
What were you doing at 19? Well, the Hisar teenager Sharmila Devi is representing India at the Olympics. The forward made her international debut in Tokyo at the Olympic Test Event in 2019. She was also on the scoresheet when India beat the United States 6-5 to secure qualification. Sharing her journey, she explained that her inclination for hockey developed at a little age while accompanying her grandfather, a former national player, to a local ground. It was the balls used in Hockey, Volleyball and football which she found fascinating. It took a while to choose one sport as a career.
(With inputs from The Indian Express)