Once hailed as a potential star, footballer Sangeeta Soren now works at a brick kiln
A talented footballer who has already donned the national team colours in different age groups, Sangeeta Soren's story is not too dissimilar to other female athletes in this country.
The fact that female athletes in India, barring a few who are considered to be icons in their respective sport, still do not find a place in public discourse is common knowledge. However, where we truly lag behind as a nation is in our establishment's inability to preserve the rights and basic privileges that national and international level athletes have strived hard to achieve, and truly deserve. Take the case of Sangeeta Soren for instance.
The national women's football team player burst onto the scene after representing the Indian U18 side in Bhutan and the U19 team in Thailand, both in 2018. She went on to get a call up to the senior side last year, but the lockdown and subsequent halt in competitive tournaments has meant that the youngster has had to go back to running errands and working in a local brick kiln to support her family.
Hailing from the small, nondescript Bansmuri village in the Baghmari block of Dhanbad, the forward's father Dube Soren is blind and also has hearing impairment because of which he is unable to contribute towards feeding his family of 9. Her elder brother works as a daily labourer with irregular income and as such, much of the family's responsibility has fallen on her young shoulders. Speaking to The Telegraph Online, Sangeeta said, "It is the responsibility of the state government to take care of the international players. I had even tried to draw the attention of the authorities by tweeting to the chief minister and had also applied for scholarships. However, since any response is yet to come in that regard, I have stopped trying now."
Last year, she had featured in news articles across Jharkhand and elsewhere when it emerged that she had been collecting leaves from the adjoining forest in Dhanbad and weaving them into plates and bowls in order to sell them in the market and eke out a living. Following this, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren directed the Deputy Commissioner of Dhanbad to provide necessary support to her family which led to the Dhanbad Football Association arranging food grains for her family during lockdown.
Unfortunately, the memory of those in positions of power in this country is as poor as the general population itself and this has again been proven. With the new year presenting a new set of challenges in terms of the pandemic situation, the talented footballer has once again been forced to take up menial jobs in the absence of any real assistance from the authorities.
"The government should have known the whereabouts of the international players as they are limited in number. I think this is the reason why many players of Jharkhand are compelled to move to other states as they get better facilities there. Had the government secured jobs for international players like us, other girls would have been encouraged to choose football as a career," she signed off during her chat with The Telegraph Online.
For those who question why athletes in our country do not develop as quickly and as holistically as those abroad, the condition that Sangeeta finds herself in even after bringing her country laurels in the most popular sport in the world, should provide a conclusive answer. It's a shame that a young girl who had the courage to take on society, ignore naysayers and make a name for herself through sheer will is probably never going to make it to our drawing room conversations regarding the future of Indian sports.