Youth

A game called life

Facing trying times: Jhilli Munda.

Facing trying times: Jhilli Munda.  

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Twenty-year-old state and national level footballer Jhilli Munda is down but not out. Rolling bidis for her survival, she hopes the State will look at her one day

“The times they are a-changin”. We appertain to a nation that has transcended its prime in football. Let’s walk back to the early 1950s, considered the golden era of Indian football when Syed Abdul Rahim led Indian football to become the best team in Asia. From winning the Asian Games in 1951 to finishing fourth in the 1956 version of the Olympic Games, it did all. Now, it’s a dream to see India qualify for the World Cup but back in 1950, we did it.

Indian football has made a new beginning. For a country where following football is all about being familiar with names like Sunil Chhetri and Baichung Bhutia, some questions go unanswered. In the first account, one asks a young gentleman, ‘So, what’s up with Sunil Chhetri?’ and he replies, all excited, “Dude, he is going to Christiano Ronaldo’s Ex-club Sporting Lisbon”. For the second question “Who is Jhilli Munda?”, he didn’t have an answer. Apparently, nobody knows the answer to this question.

Well, the 20-year-old Oriya woman footballer achieved every conceivable triumph at the national and international level only to end up rolling bidis for survival. Jhilli played her first National at Chandigarh in 2005 and secured the highest goal scorer award with 13 goals. Later, in 2007, she won the gold medal twice with her impressive performances at the National Games in Assam and the U-19 junior Nationals held at Dindigul. Her successive national appearances earned her a place in the international events as she represented India at Bangladesh in 2006 and Malaysia in 2008.

Jhilli, who has also competed at the State representative level for athletics from her State Odisha, got initiated into the sports because of her father. “Unlike many families in Odisha, my family thoroughly supported me to adhere to the game. My father is a tailor and has represented our village football team. We have limited resources and at times, it’s difficult to run our livelihood with his wages. So, my mother and I have to work at a bidi unit,” says Jhilli about her current plight.

Grief stricken, she complains about the Government’s indifferent attitude despite her achievements for the State at national and international level. “The authorities had given a list of 19 girls for jobs. It feels disappointing to be not given a place in the final list. I was shocked! The Government should look into the matter and initiate schemes to improve the plight of footballers like me, who have contributed so much to the nation and the game. If players are neglected, it would ultimately make people reluctant to pursue the sport.”

She feels optimistic about her chances for a reconsideration for the job next time. “I still go for practice every day and if god permits, I will get the job. Even if I don’t get it, I will continue playing the game,” Jhilli avers.

Unlock just one door amongst the thousands from India’s sporting past and the stories tumble out. It would be a shame if Jhilli Munda turns out to be yet another story, the story of a footballer forgotten by a nation in whose name she played.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 11:48:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/youth/a-game-called-life/article3662233.ece

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