These World Cup football contenders from Jharkhand are struggling to get two meals a day

India’s Under-17 team played in Turkey and Bhutan this year. After attending a camp in Goa, they came back home in March. For these girls, these two months have been about survival

Anand Dutta
| Updated: Last updated on June 9th, 2020,

A grim reality. Sumati Kumari from Jharkhand, who has scored a record 17 goals in the National Football Championship and is all set to participate in the FIFA Under-17 women’s football World Cup, is presently surviving on a frugal meal of rice and daal, that too, procured from the PDS (Public Distribution Scheme) dealer.

She lives in Gumla district of Jharkhand, 110 kms from Ranchi. Her father is a small farmer-labourer. Her brother is also engaged in the same work. Sumati cooks both the time. A week ago, the family got 50 kgs of rice from the Jharkhand government. Earlier, they were somehow sustaining on some little rice stored in the house. She is worried about the possibility of not getting selected in the team.

For the first time, India gears up to participate in the FIFA Under-17 women’s football World Cup. According to the All India Football Federation, the competition is scheduled to be held in February 2021. Earlier it was scheduled to be held in November 2020. A camp is being organised in Goa for the past one year. The best players will make it to the team. There are eight players from Jharkhand.

Sumati is worried about the possibility of not getting selected in the team

India’s Under-17 football team had played in Turkey and Bhutan this year. After attending the camp in Goa, the players returned home in the beginning of March when the nationwide lockdown was declared. For them, the real survival game began then.

This is why Sumati (a forward player) is stressed. The inevitability of her sadness is understandable by the fact that while she was playing for the country in Bhutan in September last year, her mother passed away. She did not return and continued playing. She also played in Hong Kong, Bhutan and Turkey. She wishes to pay tribute to her mother by playing the World Cup.

She said that her coach Alex Ambrose (the assistant coach of the team) had sent her Rs 5,000. But she has not been able to buy anything to enhance her stamina due to the lockdown. The players were getting milk, egg, banana, bread and oatmeal for breakfast and rice, dal, roti, salad, green vegetable, chicken and fish for lunch in the camp. The dinner comprised chicken or mutton, roti, and green vegetable. There was a provision of milk for vegetarians.

Another player from Gumla, Sudha Ankita Tirki (a defender) had to seek help from the villagers to feed her. Someone gave her one kg rice. She got pulses from another family. Her father has passed away and her mother is working as domestic help to fulfil her daughter’s dreams. They had applied for a ration card but it has not been made. They had received 10 kg rice in April, but nothing after that. Chief Minister Hemant Soren took cognisance of the news in a local newspaper on May 26. He ordered the district administration to provide her help. The next day, ration was delivered to her house.

Father of Purnima

Poornima Kumari (a defender) from Jambahar in Simdega district, 170 kms away from Ranchi, lives with her elderly father. Her mother is no more. The father suffers from some respiratory ailment. Her elder sister runs the house by working as a labourer. The family is surviving on rice and daal due to the lockdown. The family has a ration card so some rice has been provided to them.

Poornima had also participated in the camp. The chances of her joining the team are strong. She said: “The biggest problem is to return home from the boarding centre at Hazaribagh and then go out from here, as it costs Rs 500. My sister takes loans to arrange for it. She is not able to get any job at the moment. When I come home, dad asks what I wish to eat, but I never say anything. He is quite sick, but does not seek treatment because of me. He wants to save money so that I can play.”

Chief minister had also asked Simdega district magistrate to help these players. The district magistrate said that all the sportspersons in his district have been provided with ration at home. The current situation of Poornima is after the reply given by the district magistrate to the chief minister.

The family of Ashtam Oraon (midfielder), who is from Gumla, is also dependent on ration card. Both her parents are labourers and are not getting any work at present. In this family of four sisters and one brother, everyone is barely managing a meal of dal-rice.

Amisha Bakhla is a midfielder and lives in Ranchi. Her father is a guard and mother is a home guard. There are six people in the family. That is why most of the household income is spent towards house rent, etc. Sunita Munda’s parents are small farmers and support a family with six children. The brothers of Neetu Linda (midfielder) are wage workers and get some rice through ration cards.

There are four people in the family of Salina Kumari from Gumla. They are surviving on limited ration. Her father is a daily wager. He has to marry the eldest daughter. The family is cutting back on every expense.

When players from Manipur, Bengal and Odisha were approached for the story, they refused to comment. The parents of the players said that unless the match is over, they would not talk to the media as this is a question of their career.

A source from All India Football Federation (AIFF) has informed on the condition of anonymity that the federation bears all the responsibility as long as the players are in the camp. But when they are out of the camp, they are the responsibility of their states or the state football federations. As far as the distress of these sportspersons is concerned, some financial assistance has been provided to them on the behalf of the Federation. At the same time, they are also in touch with the state governments so that the players don’t suffer.

Ghulam Rabbani, the secretary of the Jharkhand Football Association, said: “We were able to help the players who were living in Ranchi. We could not reach put to others because of the lockdown. We don’t have their addresses. As far as the government is concerned, no department or any officer from the government has spoken to them in this regard.”

Anil Kumar the director of the Jharkhand Sports Department, said: “Help has been provided to needy sportspersons. But the department does not have any information about how many have been helped such because the district sports officials are still engaged in disaster management. During the lockdown, letters were written on behalf of the Department to all the district magistrates that if a player seeks help, they should be helped immediately. However, no separate arrangement was made for the sportspersons.”

These girls from poor families devote their full time to the game. Apart from sports, they do not have any other career option. The future of the players is at stake.

(Anand is an independent journalist from Jharkhand)