Women athletes are not treated the same as their male counterparts. That is not a cliché, but reality for the Indian women's hockey players.
Vandana Katariya at her modest residence in Parel yesterday. Pic/Rane Ashish
Members of the national squad like Rajni Etimarpu, P Sushila Chanu, Yendala Soundarya, coach Helen Mary and Vandana Katariya, fresh from their exploits at the recently-concluded FIH World Hockey League Round 2 where India beat Poland 3-1 to lift the title in New Delhi, landed in Mumbai on Monday night with only their family members present to receive them.
Vandana Katariya, top-scorer at the tournament with 11 goals, said that they are accustomed to such treatment from the authorities. Both India and Poland have earned a place in Round 3 of the World Hockey League, which serves as a qualification event for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
"We have been ignored for a while, but the time has come that we get some recognition for our achievements. Had it been male hockey players, officials would have flocked to the airport with garlands and even a band.
"This indifferent behaviour towards us hurts especially since we put in the same amount of hardwork as men do. It's not just about me, nobody in the country recognises us," said the 22-year-old forward, who is employed with Central Railway as a ticket collector.
Katariya, who twisted her ankle during the match against Poland, rated her performance in the tournament as her personal best. "I never imagined that I would end up being the top goal-scorer in the tournament.
"This, by far, is the best performance of my career. I am confident that I will recover soon for Round 3 and help India qualify for the Rio Olympics," said the Haridwar-born player.
Mumbai Hockey Association (MHA) Hon Secretary Ram Singh Rathor shifted the blame to Hockey India (HI). "What these girls have achieved is huge. Unfortunately, we didn't receive any communication from HI's Delhi office about the players' arrival or else, we would have definitely done something for them like we do for the men," he told mid-day.
Hockey India president Narinder Batra, however, said: "It is not a mandate that we send out information to the local body about the players' arrival." Meanwhile, HI have announced a cash prize of Rs one lakh for each player of the victorious Indian team.
Former Indian women's hockey captain and Olympian, Eliza Nelson: "These girls have come a step closer to qualifying for the Olympics. It's been almost three decades that the Indian women's team qualified for the Olympics. There has always been miscommunication between the Delhi and Mumbai offices which has led to such a situation."
Former International player and coach Happy Mann: "The last time a women's hockey team was received at the airport was way back in 1989. What these girls have achieved is not a small feat. It is our responsibility to honour them and boost their confidence. The trend of ignoring women players is continuing and nobody seems to be bothered."