By Meghna Pant, Features Editor
Rani Rampal is another case in point for why the state of sportswomen in our country continues to remain pitiable.
Rani hails from a little town in Haryana called Shahabad, which produces the single biggest assembly line of women’s hockey players in India. About 45 players have represented India at senior and junior levels. Shahabad is to women’s hockey what Sansarpur was to men’s hockey, and what Mumbai has been to the Indian team. No wonder then that the movie Chak De! India was also set in Shahabad.
Rani was enrolled in the town’s hockey academy at the tender age of 6. Her stellar coach, Baldev Singh, first rejected her for being too young, but changed his mind when Rani demonstrated her agility and talent. She became the youngest player in the academy. Baldev Singh went on to win the Dronacharya award, the highest decoration for a coach in India. And rightly so. Because, as of today, Rani is India’s finest forward in women’s hockey. She is a striker who often doubles as a mid-fielder. Her electric speed, superior stick work, ball sense and confidence have won her many accolades and matches.
Rani was adjudged “The Top Goal Scorer” and the “Young Player of the Tournament” at the 2009 Champion’s Challenge Tournament. She was instrumental in winning the silver medal for the Indian team in the Asia Cup held in Nov 2009. After playing with India’s national team at 2010 Commonwealth Games and 2010 Asian Games, Rani Rampal was included in the FIH Women’s All Star Team of 2010. At the 2010 Women’s Hockey World Cup, she scored a total of seven goals, which placed India in the ninth position in World Women’s hockey rankings. This is India’s best performance since 1978. She is the only Indian to be nominated for the FIH Women’s Young Player of the Year Award, 2010. She’s earned herself the moniker Olympian Rani as her team awaits an Olympic nomination this year.
The most admirable thing is that Rani is only 20-years-old. She made her senior India debut when she was 14, making her the youngest player in the Indian team. In comparison, Sachin Tendulkar made his India debut when he was 16.
Despite such display of talent and accomplishment, Rani’s ground reality remains heart wrenching.
There is an inherent bias in Indian hockey, Indian sport and the Indian attitude in general, especially for sportswomen, as money is tough to find. When she’s not playing, Rani has to work as a junior clerk in the railways to make ends meet. Her father is a horse-cart puller and money is tight. While male players earn big bucks in the Hockey Indian League, there is no such thing for women hockey players.
Rani’s Shahabad is a town with a rigid and feudal society where the system of khap panchayat still rules. The town’s sex ratio (860) is significantly worse than the rest of the state (879), which in turn is the worst in the country. Since girls are not encouraged to play, her parents faced a backlash when they first enrolled her in the hockey academy. On a daily basis, Rani has to deal with societal disapproval and judgment, and her accomplishments have only improved things for her slightly.
No wonder then that Rani feels that a shot at the Olympics will give her a job better than the one she has right now, and provide some sort of financial security to her family. Focusing on money and security instead of honing her immense talent is a sad state of affairs for a sportswoman of her ability and stature.