“My sports coach told me that pursuing cricket would need a lot of money, and since I did not have much of it, I should go with the football,” says Dular Marandi, talking about her decision to pursue a career in the sport.
Stationed in Siliguri, West Bengal as part of the Seema Suraksha Bal, Dular Marandi is one of the few shining stars from Jharkhand to make it to the National stage in football, following the footsteps of Indian International Sumitra Marandi, who hails from the same district.
Dular, unlike Sumitra, comes from a different village — Kodo, a village three kilometres from the main city of Dumka and a place non-existent on Google Maps.
Growing up, Kodo did not have electricity or sports centres for girls with and sunset meant no games outdoor. Dular used to wrap a cloth as a ball and get into the field with boys to play.
“Mere gaon me koi ladki khelti hi nahi thhi, isliye mai ladko ke saath kapde ke ball se khelti thhi (There were no girls who played football in my village, so I used to play with the boys with a rag-ball (in the rice-fields)),” she says.
When she returned home, the ones waiting at home were her siblings, a terminally sick mother and an alcoholic father.
“When people ask about my parents and childhood, I mostly talk about my sister because she brought me up,” she says, “from teaching me to take a bath, washing my clothes to getting me ready for school, it has always been my sister who has taken care of me.”
Jharkhand is a state not known exactly for women’s football.
It has produced Olympians who have been archers, such as Deepika Kumari and Komalika Bari, famous hockey players like Salima Tete, Jaipal Singh Munda and above all, the most successful captain in Indian cricket — Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Football, however, has taken a back seat here — one that became a panacea to Dular, who struggled financially from her childhood. “My brother could not complete schooling because we could not afford to,” she tells Sportstar.
It was hagiographic serendipity that put the fate of a then 10-year-old girl on track to become one of the most promising prospects of women’s football from Jharkhand.
“While playing with a few other girls from neighbouring villages, a Father from a church in Dumka recruited me for the women’s missionary team,” she says.
“He helped me a lot then, with my education, transport, food and school, everything. Then I was selected at the Residential Girls Football Training Center in Hazaribagh and there, I honed my football skills.”
The Girls Football Training Centre in Hazaribag, now under the Sports Authority of India (SAI) has built a reputation for shaping young women footballers over the years, with Poornima Kumari and Ashtam Oraon being their latest graduates.
Dular was one of the earliest from the centre. Staying away from home, she had to suffer personal setbacks one after the other, losing her mother in 2009, her elder brother in 2010 and her father five years later.
Seven years later, Dular is now the first member of her family to ever complete school and get a job in SSB. Beyond financial struggle and personal impediments, the 26-year-old has learnt to move on.
Earlier this year, Dular led SSB to become the champion of the Calcutta Women’s Football League (also known as the Kanyashree Cup) — India’s oldest tournament in women’s football.
In the tournament that followed, the Indian Women’s League, she netted nine goals to become the fourth-highest goal scorer in the tournament.
Taking up a sport due to financial limitations, Dular dreams of donning the blue jersey now and travelling the world playing the same.
“I have not played for India yet. That is something I want to do. I have seen players from outside come here and play. I want to continue working hard and be like them,” she says.
“Dular” is a term that translates to love in the local language — something that carried a precocious footballer from a remote village in Jharkhand to the overtures of Indian women’s football, inspiring more women to take up a sport in the Santhal provinces on India.
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