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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

Meet India’s Women’s Ice Hockey Team, Which Is Skating Over Society’s Misogynistic Mentality

  • IWB Post
  •  February 5, 2018

A group of 25 girls, with some as young as 15 while some in their thirties, is being trained by four-time Olympic gold medallist from Canada, Hayley Wickenheiser- and this is the description of how every morning in the city of Leh begins with the Women’s Ice Hockey Team gracefully skating on ice, battling sub-zero temperatures with their fiery enthusiasm. 

Let us get acquainted with these talented players, whom most people in India don’t even recognise. Diskit Angmo, 21, plays in the defense position and is currently an English Literature student at the Delhi University. But even though she plans on focusing on the sport after her graduation, she finds it hard to ignore the fact that hardly anyone pays attention to their team.

Women’s Ice Hockey Team

Diskit Angmo. Image source

“Most people in India don’t even know that the sport exists. My friends in college in Delhi University ask me what ice hockey is. Once I was invited as a speaker along with vice-captain of the Indian cricket team Rohit Sharma on a panel. He was very encouraging and asked me how we play, though for the audience it was like I didn’t exist,” she said.

But while India may be unaware of their talent, these girls from Ladakh have been gaining international fame. In fact, Hayley Wickenheiser, a four-time Olympic gold medalist from Canada, decided to support the team after seeing their performance in a YouTube video.

“I’m focusing on building their skills and skating right now. Their individual skills are still weak, so you can’t work on team strategies right now,” she said. She also recently announced that she’ll be donating equipment kits to the team.

“I am playing with borrowed equipment. The kit is very expensive and I’m from a lower-middle-class family. The only pair of skates I own I bought in 2011 for ₹8,000,” said Shabina Kausar, 20, who plays in the right forward position.

Women’s Ice Hockey Team

Shabina Kausar. Image source

The lack of proper equipment isn’t the only problem they faced as they had to face the patriarchal society as well.

“I would lie to my parents and go to practice and training. They wanted me to focus on my studies. Everyone says there is no scope for women in sports but this is my passion so I do whatever I can,” said 19-year-old Tsewang Chorol.

Women’s Ice Hockey Team

Tsewang Chorol. Image source

Not to forget the hardships they faced in their early days when they had to dig and make their own ice rink at Gupuks Lake outside Leh for their practice.

“We designated weekly shifts for this. First, we had to drive down at 8pm, dig some of the ice to get the water from the lake. Through buckets, mugs, and pipes we would spread the water across. Then we could come back at 3am to repeat the process. By 7am the rink would be ready for us to play,”  said Angmo.

The first time they performed in a match was in 2016 in the Challenge Cup of Asia. And despite many hindrances, like not having passports and money to afford the trip, they participated but lost all the matches, although their goalkeeper, Noorjahan, got the best player award.

But they gained experience and knowledge from it. In 2017, they competed in the same tournament again, ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised ₹32 lakh. This time they won two matches.

“We were all so emotional and cried so much. Even others became teary-eyed when our national anthem was being played. We felt that we had made our country proud,” said Chorol.

While their performances may not be up to the mark at the moment, their coach Wickenheiser has high hopes for their future.

“Internationally, they are at the bottom of the pool right now though they are not the worst. With consistent time on the ice and training, they can beat the teams in their divisions and move further up.”

Had these girls received the same privileges as cricket players, is there any doubt about how they would have progressed? Ice hockey is a game which is played internationally on much larger and smoother artificial rinks compared to the natural ice rinks the girls practice on. And in our entire nation, there is one artificial rink in Dehradun, but it lays defunct thanks to the state government’s claims of not having enough funds to get it repaired.

Seeing the less than welcome treatment by the government towards their teams, the girls took matters in their own hands and with the leftover money from the crowdfunding campaign they held to raise money for their tournament expenses, they have established the Ladakh Women Ice Hockey Foundation and for the first time, this January, coaching camps for younger girls were held by them where they used the equipment Hayley brought to train others.

And as they polish their own skills in attempts to reach new heights, their mission is to inspire the next generation of girls to take up the sport.

H/T: Hindustan Times

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