Hesal is a small Maoist-hit, tribal village located in the interiors of Jharkhand. Situated in the Kunti district of the state, some 50kms south from the capital of Ranchi, Hesal has produced countless women hockey stars since the early 1990s.
It would be a huge downplaying, if one says that hockey runs in the blood of the people of Hesal. Hockey, for them, is something more. It is a way of life for them.
This entire hockey craze in Hesal started when a school teacher, Dasrath Mahato, started coaching some girls of the village back in the year 1989. Mahato continued his teachings in the village for almost two decades till his retirement in 2016, producing 55 national players. Besides, the village also produced 20 players including Nikki Pradhan (represented India at Olympics 2016), who have gone on to represent India at the international level
As expected, there were apprehensions of girls playing a sport in the village when Mahato started coaching. But, those soon went away, thanks to his convincing skills.
These successes of girls in the hockey field also translated into secured government jobs, which provided an extra motivation to the villagers to allow the girls to play.
Most of these girls come from poor financial background, not even having the money to buy sticks. The girls though, work odd jobs – mainly as farm labourers to fund their passion.
“My eldest daughter, Shashi Pradhan, was the first from the family to play hockey. When she demanded a hockey stick, I discouraged her from playing the game. I couldn’t say that I couldn’t afford to buy a stick. Poor girl worked as a labourer and bought a stick from the money she earned,” Nikki Pradhan’s father had said to The Hindustan Times in 2017.
In spite of producing such talented players over the years, what is hurting the village of Hesal is the lack of proper training facilities. Most of these girls are forced to migrate to district headquarters either in Kunti or Ranchi to improve their game.
The astro-turf stadium in Kunti was also in a sorry state till a few years back. The prominent Tata Trust is helping these young girls in whatever ways they can.
The state of Jharkhand has always had a very deep-rooted hockey culture with both men and women going on to achieve great things for the country. But, due to a village like Hesal, the women of the state have always outperformed the men.