As the world celebrates the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day a lone warrior in Ladakh will allow herself a smile. While the United Nations’ theme of ‘Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all,’ rings around the world, Stanzin Dolkar will cast her mind back to the uphill battles she fought in the snow deserts of Leh to win women the right to play ice hockey.
Today, the 28-year-old from Ladakh coaches children in ice hockey on the same rink that she was once refused entry to because of being a girl.
“It gives me immense happiness to watch girls play ice hockey. We are a free society and boys and girls should be treated equally,” says Dolkar, who recently got a job as physical instructor in the Jammu and Kashmir Sports and Youth Department. But things weren’t always so rosy. In 2003 local authorities barred the women’s team from featuring in the CM’s Cup after its maiden participation a year earlier.
“We had secretly planned two protest songs, one of them ‘We Shall Overcome’in Ladakhi, with protest banners but were stopped by organisers who snatched the banners,” she says of the protest dance on ice that was carried out in the break during the men’s final. But the protest did not end there. Dolkar returned the runners-up trophy won the previous year. “I asked the sports minister what the trophy meant if they were not allowing us to even play.”
In 2004, women were initially left out once more, but the pressure mounted and officials eventually relented. “In 2004 we picked some girls from Kargil and played in the nationals,” says Dolkar. Ever since, women’s ice hockey has been regular feature in Ladakh.
Recognition came to Dolkar in 2006 in the form of ‘Thin Ice,’ a Swedish documentary that went on to win Silver Wolf Competition Award. “ After my feat, my college made me a guest of honour in our annual athletics meet. But my mission has not ended. I want to see women’s national team competing in international competitions.”