History is often created, but not recorded.
Year 1983. The year when India won the first World Cup in its staple sport, Cricket. Same year, another first of its kind happened, but went unnoticed and unwritten about. India’s brightest star of women’s football, till date, became the only female footballer to have received the Arjuna Award. Shanti Mallick; a name not even registered in the AIFF’s official website until recently.
A national captain, a coach and almost an Asian All-Star, Shanti Mallick is a living example of how unsporting Indian sports is. “Gender bias has not only prevailed but still exists in the fraternity of football. Women footballers still do not receive the due recognition”, she explains.
Idolising her father, also a footballer, she faced all hardships and overcame all obstacles to become a footballer despite knowing before hand the future would be pretty dark and silent. “As a woman footballer in India, you cannot expect much and I knew that from the beginning.” The 57-year old says with the excitement and passion of a 15-year old, “I started to play barefoot, but the day I got my first pair of boots, I knew nothing could stop me.”
Alike most women who have dared to run the extra mile, Shanti too faced societal pressures and obstacles. Her career decision was opposed by peers who were supported by doctors. “My career choice didn’t go down well with many. Doctors said that playing football won’t let me have a baby of my own in future. In general, the conservatives in my society were hurt”, she reminisces. “But I was ready to face all challenges.”
Shanti Mallick was the captain of the Indian team that participated in the 1982 Asian Games. Apart from winning various titles at state and national level, the Arjuna awardee had played league matches in sports like cricket, basketball and volleyball. Not to forget, she was a national handball champion in 1978.
“The state of women’s football is so bad that I was given a job by the Eastern Railways not because of football, but due to my achievements in hockey. Hardly a penny is spent on women’s football in this country. If in our days they lacked funds, now they take it home.” She presents the aura of a warrior yet to accept defeat at the hands of the sporting administration of the country. “Being a coach, I am myself a part of the AIFF, but I won’t shut my mouth when I can speak against the injustice’, says a dejected Shanti Mallick who hasn’t received a single amenity from the authorities till date. “Not even a cup of tea”, she adds.
She cherishes the day she got a job with Eastern Railways more than the day she received the award from the President in 1983. “Most girls get involved with football out of natural liking. Later, they realize that a job is essential to keep the home fires burning,” she says. “An empty stomach doesn’t help you score goals”, she smiles.
When former skipper, Shanti Mallick donned the national colours for the first time problems and disappointments still existed, but the situation was still not as bad, according to her, as it is now. Shanti, who played in the golden time for the Indian women’s football, with the likes of Kuntala Ghosh Dastidar and Shukla Dutta, remembers playing at least 10 international matches a year. “But nowadays, the girls hardly play any tournament, and this is the stark difference between the men’s and the women’s game.”
Although having forever been at the receiving end of the unfair game, Shanti Mallick boasts of a career clean sheet: neither a yellow nor a red card. Ask her about the future of women’s football in the country and she smiles in disappointment. “If we were to forget the past and look forward to the future, one can only hope. But I don’t see even a hint of light at the end of the tunnel.”
As a coach, as a mentor, as someone whom the girls look up to, I feel ashamed as all the advice will count for nothing when they don’t get means of livelihood”, says the dejected teacher. “I have lived out my life for the love of the game, I hope they can too.”
A fighter. An athlete. A champion. A role model.