Hockey brings hope of a new future for players from Andaman and Nicobar Island
The team from Andaman and Nicobar Island has won many hearts with their determination to succeed at the prestigious National Championships despite numerous personal struggles.
As the Quarter Finals get underway today at the 13th Hockey India Senior Women National Championship 2023 Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, with Hockey Jharkhand, Hockey Punjab, Hockey Haryana, Hockey Bengal, Hockey Association of Odisha, Hockey Maharashtra, Hockey Madhya Pradesh and Hockey Karnataka making it to the final eight, aspiring hockey players from Hockey Andaman and Nicobar will leave for their home not disappointed but motivated to return as a stronger unit next year.
In only their second outing in this prestigious National Championships, the Islanders were up against strong teams like Hockey Maharashtra, Hockey unit of Tamil Nadu and Le Puducherry Hockey in pool H. Though they could not register a win, the players take home rich experiences from the event which was held on par with international matches. Hockey Andaman & Nicobar made their maiden appearance at the 11th Hockey India Senior Women National Championship 2021 held at Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh last year.
Speaking of her experience here, 21-year-old Neelam Binita Kujjur said, "I am so grateful to have gotten this opportunity to play at the National Championships. I come from a very difficult background in Andaman and Nicobar Island where my parents work as daily wagers. But that does not deter my passion for hockey, I want to showcase my talent so that I can get a permanent job and earn a good living for my family."
Neelam has played hockey since 2015 and during this period she has had to face tough times, she even had to drop out of school to ensure her younger sister can be educated. She works as a part-time cashier at a store in Port Blair to support her family but had to quit the job as they wouldn't give her leave to play the Nationals. "I see hockey as an opportunity to create a new career. Many people don't know much about Andaman and Nicobar and through our participation in these Nationals, we want to draw more focus on the Island," she added.
Majority of the players come from various small villages across Andaman island such as Diglipur, Mayabundr, Hutbay, Baratang, Bambooflat and Ferrargung. The players train at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Velodrome Hockey Arena in Port Blair.
Sashita Bhengra is another player who is adamant about making her dream of playing hockey come true. “My father was a hockey player as well, he used to play for Hockey Jharkhand and has represented them in the National Championships as well but due to circumstances he is now a daily wage worker, supporting our family of four however he can. This is the reason I play hockey, to fulfil my father’s dream of playing hockey at the highest level and to start earning enough to support the family."
Sashita has been working part-time as a saleswoman at a new mall in Andaman but she has set her goals to earn a better life and has chosen hockey as the way to do it. "Today, there is so much scope for hockey in the country with players who do well at the domestic level also earning good jobs, that is my first aim. There is more awareness for hockey in the island after the Indian teams did well at the Olympics in Tokyo,” she said.
Naw Madhu Prith Decosta, the 26-year-old captain expressed her team's undying spirit and team's eagerness to take their game to the next level. “These Nationals are a great opportunity for us as a team. We want to perform at our best and Hockey India has left no stone unturned in facilitating this, the feel of the National Championships is completely different from the last time, it feels like we are playing in International matches now. We need to capitalize on this opportunity to impress the selectors and make our way to the National Hockey Team,” she said.
The captain further highlighted, "Even though we could not win matches here, I know my team won many hearts with several players from other teams and officials taking note of our performance. They are all aware of the challenges we face back home and we are confident that in the coming years, we will perform well at the National Championships. Hockey India is now drawing focus on smaller teams like ours from Union Territories and this chance that they have provided will only help the sport grow in the island with more kids taking it up," she concluded.