Former Odisha hockey player languishing in poverty
The bronze-winning performance of Indian men’s hockey team in Tokyo Olympics has revived hopes of India returning to its hockey super power status, but a 26-year-old former full-back from Odisha who once represented the state in senior national men’s championship has been working as a migrant labourer to make ends meet.
Playing for Gangpur-Odisha hockey team (one of the associate teams of Hockey India) in 2013 and 2014 senior men’s hockey championship, Santosh Majhi, a tribal from Lulkidihi village of Sundargarh district, stood out for his resolute defence in several games. But 7 years later, Majhi’s world is far removed from the world of hockey as he migrated to Goa last year to work in fishing vessels for ₹6,000 a month.
“I have no other way than to go out to work. I have no future left in hockey though I would have loved to play,” Majhi said from his home in Lulkidihi village, which has produced at least two Olympians in Deepgrace Ekka of women’s hockey team and Ignace Tirkey of the men’s team. With at least 7 international players to its credit, Lulkidihi is considered a nursery of hockey in Odisha along with Saunamara village, from where former India captain Dilip Tirkey hails.
Like most tribal kids in Sundargarh district, Majhi took to hockey at the age of 11 when he joined the sports hostel at Panposh. For his daily wager father, sports promised a getaway from the drudgeries of life. In the hostel he shone as a defender and played for the Hockey Gangpur team in 2013 and 2014. After leaving the sports hostel in 2015, he played for Paradip Port Trust in All India Major Ports Hockey Championships in 2016, 2017 and 2018, but could not get a job there.
Majhi said in 2016, he had tried for a job in Indian Army through sports quota, but was disqualified during a medical test over varicose veins issue. His problems have also been compounded as he could not complete his higher secondary exam in 2016 after suffering a fracture in his hand.
Arun Kumar Sahu, a social activist of the area, said it is disturbing to see players like Majhi struggle for a living. “As the state government and centre are spending crores of rupees over hockey, it will be good to rehabilitate players like him,” said Sahu.
Odisha sports secretary Vineel Krishna said though Majhi represented Gangpur Odisha in senior nationals, he did not secure any position. “The state government has a policy of giving government jobs to all medallists but he is not eligible for a job as per the notification of home department,” he said.