Hockey women, in their own words: 'Coaches will come and go but we'll have to do the work. Us girls, 25 of us.'

Indian players celebrate after beating Australia in the quarterfinal at Tokyo 2020. Yang Shiyao/Xinhua via Getty Images

Between January and March 2020 Sharda Ugra spent time with the Indian women's hockey team at their camp in Bangalore. Through conversations, then and later, they told her about themselves: who they are, where they come from, how hockey had changed them - and, perhaps more importantly, how their success had changed the lives or the mindset of others back home.

You've read about their struggles and about their families. Now read about them - in their own words.

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Rani Rampal, Captain

Sport is very important for women in India, it makes us brave, you can speak; when you are right, you can speak for the right. You can say "I am not wrong".

Deep Grace Ekka (Defender)

I don't wear a mouth guard during penalty corners, I've never been hit in the face but I have no fear of that now. I did have some fear early, but now we've been made so fearless that we are not scared at all. If you don't get out of fear, if you don't shake it off, you can't play properly.

Gurjit Kaur (Drag flicker, defender)

Drag-flicking has to be a 'shauk', a calling. In hockey there is nothing one cannot learn to do, except you have to practice extra, follow those who are good at it, and keep working.

Navneet Kaur (Forward)

I don't wear (salwar-kameez) suits at home, and I say that if I have to wear suits compulsorily, I will not go out. I don't have a problem with wearing suits, I like them, but the meaning behind it - why we should wear suits, that girls MUST wear them - that is bekaar (useless). That shouldn't happen. It is one thing to wear it because you love it, you prefer it, that's good. The thing that you must wear this - that is the problem I have. Kyon (why)? That's not good. We can wear whatever we like. No one tells boys that you can't wear this or that. Why are we told this?

Savita Punia (Goalkeeper)

People in my village now think it's okay to want their daughters admitted into a good college in another place. They tell my parents, Savita can go so far away, to other countries, other states, why can't we send our daughters to another district?


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Lalremsiami (Forward)

I told my parents, if I have to play hockey, I have to leave the state. If I want to play long-term hockey, I have to face living away from home. They were afraid to send me out of the state but they said, you have chosen, so we must support.

Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam (Midfielder)

I don't get affected by praise, I don't accept it easily. I don't praise people too much either.

Nikki Pradhan (Midfielder)

We had decided after the Rio Olympics that coaches will come and go, but the work that has to be done, we are the ones who have do it. Us girls, 25 of us.

Vandana Katariya (Forward)

We are Indian girls and so normally we wouldn't look anyone in the eye...that's how we respect elders. Sir (coach Sjoerd Marijne) had to work on that a lot. Today, we talk eye to eye, ask questions, discuss things.

Namita Toppo (Midfielder)

I never think a match is over until the hooter blows. We may have a hard time, or bad luck, but until that hooter, it's not over.

Lilima Minz (Midfielder)

We were in school and we had no direction, how far would we study, what we would do. In the village it was believed that girls should live like girls. Itna upar jaana nahin chahiye (You shouldn't be climbing so high.) We had no national-level hockey player. I was the one who started it. Every year, now, people try to put their kids into the hostel.

Reena Khokhar (Defender)

I'm from Chandigarh, a city; a lot of the girls are from small towns and villages but we are a team. We know that it's not a good thing to tease others for what you see as their weakness - 'Oh, you don't know English', like that. That's not a good sign for a team if you start to tease others, pounce on their weaknesses. It is our job to help and, if we do, the team will only grow.

Rajani Etimarpu (Reserve goalkeeper)

For girls like me, 4-5 years ago when people asked my family, 'when will Rajni marry?', my parents said that she's playing well. Now nobody asks, they see that I'm doing well, my name is in the paper, they don't ask. Wherever they go now, people respect my parents and it makes me very happy.