BY RAJNISH SINGH
A band of nine gutsy teenage girls who slogged for months on a helipad in Maoist-hit Chhattisgarh to learn how to play hockey are now poised to showcase their sporting skills at the national level as they await trials for sub-junior and junior national hockey teams.
If all goes well, many of these girls from Bastar, in the age group of 14-17, could go on to play in the sub-junior and junior hockey teams for the first time and then, who knows, even the national seniors team in times to come.
Their sporting journey from not even knowing how to hold a hockey stick to mastery of free hits, drag flicks, and dribbles was made possible due to a helping hand extended by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) which is posted on anti-Naxal duties in the state.
The Chhattisgarh girls — selected for Hockey India’s national trial camp 2020 in coming months — are now raring to put their talents on display at the national and international platforms.
The trial camp was to be held in May-June but postponed due to Covid. It will be held any time in the coming months.
These feisty tribal girls began learning the sport at the ITBP Academy run by the 41st Battalion amid limited resources in 2016, an ITBP official told IANS.
Belonging to Kondagaon district, these girls did not even know how to handle hockey sticks and also totally unaware of their own hockey skills — that got them fame within two years of their training in the Under-17 state championships.
Understandably, ITBP Head Constable Surya Smit is proud of her tutees — Dhaneswari Korram, 17, Tanisha Nag, 16, Sanjani Sodi, 16, Sulochana, 16, Sevanti Poyam, 16, Savitri Netam, 16, Sumani Kasyap, 15, Sukri Mandavi, 15, and Sukmati Mandavi, 14.
Smit said she trained these youngsters on a helipad near Mardapal police camp in the absence of a proper field, adding that she believes that they have the ability to earn hockey fame not only for Chhattisgarh but also for the country with proper resources.
Smit told IANS that once the ITBP provided these girls basic hockey kits and uniforms, they were quick to pick the sport and master it.
“I have been training 55 tribal girls on half-cemented helipad. One side of the ground is covered in soil while the other half is cemented. This is not a full ground but something is better than nothing.”
In August 2016, Smit said, she began training the girls and they came second runners-up in 2018 in the Under-17 state hockey championship. “These girls were also second runners-up in the 2019 state Nehru Cup championship.”
Before the lockdown, these girls used to undergo training from 6 am to 8 am and 4.30 pm to 6 pm daily. Now, their are receiving online training as the tribal hostel where they stayed is closed, Smit said.
“They have natural tremendous endurance and speed and will do wonders if their skills are further honed through better resources.”
Studying at Kanya Ashram (girls school) in Mardapal area of Kondagaon district, the official said, these girls were encouraged to play hockey by ITBP which has so far trained more than 50 tribal girls of the age group of 8-17.
The girls, however, rued lack of facilities to pursue their dreams of playing for the country at the international level and appealed to Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju to help them get access to a regular playing field.
Sumani Kasyap said: “We are ready to take aim for the national hockey team berth. We are inspired by our national hockey players.”
“We have requested Mr Rijiju to help us in getting a proper playing field as the helipad is a very risky place while playing,” she said.
Sulochana, who plays in the centre forward position, told IANS that hockey was now her major mean to fulfil all of her dreams.
Similarly, Sevanti Poyam, a goalkeeper, said hockey gave her an opportunity to prove her talents. Sukhmati, who plays in right in position, said her goal was to play for the Indian national women’s team.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)