As the new year reigned in, it brought along some noise, hope, promise, and the excitement of events like the Tokyo Olympics in July 2020. For a country that is as celebratory as India, this means that we’ve started cheering on our beloved athletes already, which includes the Indian Women’s Hockey Team. By keeping up this spirit, we found ourselves at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) on an unusually hot January morning in Bangalore. As we entered the field, we saw what seemed like a blur of players and a world condensed to the movement of their hockey sticks.
While it was mesmerizing to watch every player on the field play a game that they were so very passionate about, we were on a lookout for one specific player. As the game came to a halt, we spotted a strong grip on a bright pink hockey stick and a fervent stance in command of her surroundings, the Captain of the Indian Women’s Hockey Team, Rani Rampal.
In the shortlist for the World Games Athlete of the Year Awards, Rani is a force to be reckoned with, not only on the field, but as a person who is representing her country. We knew her difficult backstory, but hearing it from Rani herself made it that much more compelling and remarkable that she found the strength to rise and play fearlessly for her family and country under the circumstances she had to undergo.
Hailing from a family where she was unsure of whether she would be able to eat the next day, Rani explained that she grew up in a kacha ghar (mud home). While her father struggled to earn Rs. 100 a day, her mother ensured that she would wake up in the early hours of dawn to go practice Hockey, despite not having access to basic amenities like a clock.
It’s a proud moment that Indian Women’s Hockey Team Captain @imranirampal is the only Indian nominated for World Athlete of the Year 2019. I have given my vote to Rani, now request everyone to vote for her. Link- https://t.co/MK1Z76zRSX pic.twitter.com/qe1UqdqJjE— Mary Kom (@MangteC) January 17, 2020
“Growing up in Haryana was not easy since it’s such a male dominated state,” Rani said, while recollecting her childhood. With Haryana’s skewed sex ratio having its own ups and downs, improving to 952 girls per 1000 boys in 2019 according to the World Health Organization, Rani grew up in an environment that paid little to no attention to girls. According to Rani, girls were barely let out of their homes let alone allowed to go play sports. In this repressive environment, Rani was able to convince her family, and most importantly, convince herself of her abilities and strength to be able to achieve her dreams. Not a stranger to hardships, Rani vehemently expressed that her ultimate desire to play for India always stems back to the fact that this will push restrictive societies to understand that their daughters should have the freedom to choose their passion.
Her immense zeal for the game and her fierce stand on how women athletes need to be recognized more, so that young girls in India are encouraged to break those barriers and become the celebrated faces of India, is precisely what makes her a force of nature.
“Hockey is my life. Hockey is my voice,” Rani exclaimed both humbly and unapologetically.
And it truly is the song that she sings. She knows it, we know it, and now, so does the rest of the world.