India’s women footballers: For the beautiful game, a life of poverty & hardship

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Miles to go: Achom Degio, left, and Roshni Ramching stay miles away from a football field (Photo Credit: Rahul Karmakar)

PASIGHAT, SEPTEMBER 15: Ringkhangsri Boro quit her job as a football coach to play for Assam at the ongoing 25th Senior Women’s National Football championship in Pasighat, in Arunachal Pradesh’s East Siang district.
It wasn’t tough for the 32-year-old midfielder to take the decision. She is used to being a drifter after she was booted out of her home in Malmura Majgaon village in Assam’s Udalguri district in 2007, the year she cleared her Class 10 and made it to the State team for the nationals.
“That job ensured me a place to stay and some money, barely enough to buy me food. I will not get paid for playing in the nationals, but money cannot buy me the happiness of representing my State in the sport I love,” Bora said.
And she is not unduly worried about what next after September 24 when tournament ends. “I will find any job to survive, but will never return home to the family that kicked me out for daring to defy their diktat and play football,” she said.
Boro’s story, unfortunately, is not unique.
‘Bonkora suwali’
Anjana Saikia too had to leave home in Gorudharia village in Dibrugarh district 10 years ago ~ to ease her family’s burden of “feeding an extra mouth”.
“Floods made my father, a marginal farmer, a daily-wage labourer. There were days when he could not find work to feed a family of 5 including my 2 sisters. So I moved out after I got selected for the U-17 Indian women’s football team,” the Assam team goalkeeper said.
Saikia befriended midfielder Mrinali Borah during a selection trial a decade ago. The friendship ensured her a shelter at the latter’s house in Kakojan Bamkukurasowa village in Jorhat district. But the roof over her head comes at a cost. She has had to earn her stay ~ from sweeping the floors and doing dishes to working at the paddy fields of her ’employer’.
“I am a bonkora suwali (maidservant). I play football for India too,” said the 26-year-old, who has represented India twice in the U-19 team and twice in the senior team.
She had to miss 2 trips with the senior team for international meets because the local authorities did not clear her travel documents in time.
But, she added, she works more out of gratitude to the Borahs for letting her stay and study to finish her graduation and most importantly, and play in the local club to hone her skills, albeit most often with the men’s team.
Saikia had trained hard and applied for a job with the paramilitary Assam Rifles as well as Northeast Frontier Railway. She cleared all the tests but did not receive the call letter “maybe because I pursue the wrong sport”.
Her team’s fullback Lirbon Tissopi has a similar ‘job profile’. Tissopi works as a farm labourer at her village of Kheroni in Karbi Anglong district because her family needs her support and service. She also has to work as a farm labourer to augment the family income.
“I have represented Assam 7 times since 2007, the year my father died. I could not take part 6 times because I could not find the time to practice to qualify,” she told The Hindu, matter-of-factly.
Assam Coach Biswajit Narzary met the women’s squad 7 days before the championship. “They are a very good team. Better facilities and a reprieve from poverty can make them a great team,” he said.
Footballers of host Arunachal Pradesh are luckier in terms of family support. But a tough mountainous terrain has forced them to stay miles away near a football field in the State capital Itanagar. Centre-back Achom Degio from Bana in East Kameng district and midfielder Roshni Ramching from Tagin in Upper Subansiri are 2 such players.
Slow change
It is no different for some players from Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu either. The challenges and prejudice they battle today remain the same that D Ramani, manager of the Karnataka team, fought more than 4 decades ago.
“Reluctant parents, taunting neighbours, uncooperative officials ~ I suffered all these while representing Karnataka in both football and cricket. But the mindset is changing. Many of our players today are from well-to-do families,” Ramani said.
Karnataka team captain Tanvie Hans, who shifted from Delhi 2 years ago, said she is fortunate to have been born in a resourceful family that “doesn’t pester me to get married”. She has been investing in a sports enterprise to ensure female footballers do not have to worry where their next meal comes from.
(Courtesy: The Hindu)