Former Indian women football team goalkeeper herds goats for a living
Just 8 years ago, as the goalkeeper in India’s women football she deftly stopped any attempts of strikers at the goalpost lunging at shots of opponents. In 2019, Tanuja Baghe, from Jharsuguda district of Odisha has been reduced to minding the goats of local villagers as she struggles to feed her family.
Born in a poor tribal family in Debadihi village of Jharsuguda district, she showed her talent for football and underwent training under Vedanta’s corporate social responsibility programme in 2003. Baghe was just 14 then. A quick learner, Baghe started playing for Odisha team soon and then secured a place for herself in Indian women football team. Soon Baghe’s shelf started overflowing with trophies, medals and certificates. Besides football, Tanuja also played rugby and sepak-takraw.
“I played in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bengal. In a final match against Manipur and we lost. In one of the exhibition match that I played as Indian goalkeeper, we won against Nepal,” said Baghe. “But that is past and now I no longer try to remember it.”
Baghe said she hoped to get some government or private job, but when she did not get any she had to quit football in 2011. She was appointed as a police homeguard by Jharsuguda police a few years back, but the wages were so low that it was very difficult to sustain her.
A former district collector had helped her get a job of training students in football in a private school. But she had to quit it as she received salary of Rs 3000 a month instead of the promised Rs 8000. “I had to cycle for 15 km every day to reach the school from my home so I had no other option but to quit,” she said.
With no work available, Baghe took to washing utensils at houses of local people and herd their goats. “My husband is also a daily labourer and unless both of we work, it is difficult to feed our two kids. I don’t enjoy running after the goats, but there is little I can do,” she said. Baghe does not even have a hosue of her own and lives in a hut on a government land. The only saving grace is the ration card that gets them rice at subsidised rate of Rs 1 a kg.
Jharsuguda district collector Jyoti Ranjan Pradhan said he hs asked District Sports Officer to visit Baghe and find out about her ttravails. “We would try to give some job as per her educational qualification,” he said.