Elisaba Lakra has loved hockey ever since she was a little girl. Now aged 27, she is captain and coach of Khamarimunda village hockey team in India’s Sundargarh district.
The increased interest in hockey has changed the lives of many women in rural India, who are now seen as the “shining stars of the village.”
Elisaba Lakra has loved hockey ever since she was a little girl. Now aged 27, she is captain and coach of Khamarimunda village hockey team in India’s Sundargarh district. A busy mother of two eight-year-old twin girls, she finds time to prepare her husband’s lunch and fit in practice before her daughters return from school.
Elisaba started playing hockey when she was five, and by age 13 she made it to the junior team of her state, Odisha, in rural India. Her talent was such that she was later selected to join a top training academy in Rourkela, host to the 2023 Hockey World Cup, about 112 km (70 miles) from her village.
However, being the only daughter, among five brothers, she was not allowed to leave home in order to accept the prestigious invitation. For her family, that would be unacceptable, as it would prevent her “timely marriage”, according to tradition.
She got married at the young age 16, to a local boy who knew her love for the sport, and who also played hockey himself. While raising her twin daughters, Elisaba would only play occasionally with her husband in their back yard.
In 2018, things changed when Odisha hosted the Hockey World Cup for the first time. A new respect for hockey was born in the state, which may, in fact, become the country’s “sports capital”. In order to encourage kids and youngsters to pick up the stick and make it to the field, the state government promised jobs to those selected for state and national teams.
Now, parents have not only stopped disregarding hockey, but they even see it as a prestigious career option for their children. How things change!
“This push to turn Odisha into the hockey hub of India has shown results and is inspired by the fact that Sundargarh district alone has produced more than 60 national and international hockey players,” said sports journalist Sandeep Mishra.
This increased interest in hockey really changed Elisaba’s life. In two years, she managed to build a team of women, her age and older, who practice daily despite all their family commitments. The team has been successful, and finished second in a recent inter-village tournament.
When Elisaba started the team, she had her players using bamboo sticks and a custard apple as a ball, before they got some proper equipment – which only came with their recognition as sports stars:
“I cannot play professionally any more, but I am glad that I still get to play. Since these two World Cups (2018 and 2023), the attitude towards the game has changed and we are seen as the shining stars of the village.”
This story was originally published by The Guardian.