In Odisha, former woman footballer now sells newspapers to eke out a living

Known for her sprinting abilities, Dash was a centre-forward who despite limited skills managed to make the Odisha team reach the quarter finals.
Dash cycles around the city hawking newspapers for two hours every morning.(HT PHOTO.)
Dash cycles around the city hawking newspapers for two hours every morning.(HT PHOTO.)
Updated on Sep 13, 2019 10:28 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar | ByDebabrata Mohanty

At a time when Odisha is getting its own Indian Super League (ISL) club football team, a former woman footballer from the state is trying to make her ends meet by selling newspapers on the streets of Bhubaneswar.

Subharani Dash, who in 1992 travelled to the Assamese hill station of Haflong as a member of the first women’s football team of Odisha to play in the first Federation Cup women’s national football championship, is light years away from the world of football. Known for her sprinting abilities, Dash was a centre-forward who despite limited skills managed to make the Odisha team reach the quarter finals.

More than two decades and a half later, football is a distant memory for the 44-year-old centre forward as she wakes up early in her shack in Bhubaneswar to hawk newspapers. The only memory of her past is a deflated ball hung on the wall and the numerous yellowing certificates that she received from the Odisha Football Association. Along with her two daughters and husband, Dash cycles around the city hawking newspapers for two hours before rushing to people’s homes for giving tuitions to school students.

“I wake up at 3.20 am and after finishing morning chores I rush out to get newspapers. By 5 am I am out on the streets delivering newspapers in the homes of more than 200 people. I finish my newspaper hawking by 7.30 am so that I can give tuition to school students. After reaching home, I do tailoring and make paper packets out of old newspapers which I sell to local shopkeepers. But the pain of not being able to play football always hurts me,” said Dash.

Born to a poor family in Bhubaneswar, Dash showed her sporting talent from an early age when she played Kho-kho for her school team. She first played for the Odisha kho-kho team in 1986 representing the state in several national games till football happened.

“In 1992, when Biju Patnaik was the chief minister, he wanted a women’s football team from Odisha to represent the state at the Federation Cup being played in Assam. As there were no women’s football teams in Odisha in 1992, football coach Rajkamal Mandal and Chandan Chanda picked Kho-kho players and started training them. “Lest we miss out the football tournament, Biju Patnaik made arrangements for us so that we can travel by air to Guwahati. After training for a few days we played the Federation Cup and reached the quarter-final,” said Dash, who then went on playing for the Odisha team as centre-forward and defender till 1998 when a near fatal road accident cut her sports career short.

Mandal, who coached Dash along with several players including Shraddhanjali Samantray, former captain of the Indian women’s football team, said Dash showed promise. “She was very quick with the ball and would have surely made it to the national team had the accident not happened. In 90s, there was neither any interest not sponsorship available for women’s football. Had she continued, she would have made it to national team,” said Mandal.

The road accident ensured that she could not join the Odisha Police as a constable for which she was selected.

In 2000, her father got her married to newspaper hawker Prakash Chandra Mishra. After her husband met with an accident in 2003, Dash started selling newspapers and giving tuitions to keep the household running. With hardly any money to get a house on rent, the couple started living in a 6 ft x 6 ft cabin in Sahid Nagar area of Bhubaneswar while struggling to earn by selling newspapers other sundry jobs.

Even after their two daughters - Jyotnamayee and Stuti Aradhana Mishra - were born, the couple kept on living inside the claustrophobic cabin till 2017, when they realised that they could not live with two growing daughters inside a cabin and had to take a house on rent. “When our family lived in the cabin, we would wake up early in the morning to take a bath under the municipality tap. We had strung a polythene sheet to make a temporary bathroom just outside our cabin. We moved to a rented house close to the cabin in 2017, but now the entire family has to work to pay the rent. Along with my husband, my daughters also hawk newspapers to supplement the family income,” said Dash.

The Dash family earns about Rs 12,000 of which Rs 7000 is spent on rent and electricity. “God forbid, if anyone of us fall ill. All our savings will be wiped clean,” she said. One of the daughters is studying in class 8 while another is preparing for a medical entrance examination.

A self-respecting woman, Dash says the idea of seeking help from others never struck her. “Even when me and my family struggled to live inside the small cabin, I never asked for any help. My two brothers did not want to help and made me feel unwelcome. I did not know about any government assistance for sportspersons like me till early this year when I sent an application for pension,” she said.

Odisha sports department officials who are now busy in preparing infrastructure for next year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Bhubaneswar, said they are scrutinising the application for grant of pension of Rs 3000. “We have got her application for grant of pension. Once we are sure of her sports exploits we will approve the pension,” said Manoj Padhy, joint secretary in sports department.

Dash is the not the first footballer from the state who fell on bad days. In July this year, newspapers reported about the case of former goalkeeper in the Indian women’s football team, Tanuja Bage who was found grazing goats near her home in Jharsuguda district to make a living.

Male footballer Ashok Das, who played for Odisha in the Santosh Trophy and once guided the state to the semi-final of the Champion’s Trophy Football tournament was discovered by a local TV channel selling fish for a living. In 2014, newspapers reported about Rashmita Patra, a defender in Indian women’s football team running a betel shop in coastal Odisha town of Kendrapara district to earn a living.

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