Eight years ago, Tanuja Baghe of Jharsuguda district was a goalkeeper in the Indian women’s football team. She now herds goats to feed her family.
Born to a poor tribal family in Debadihi village, Tanuja displayed her football skills early in life. At the age of 14 in 2003, she began receiving training under Vedanta’s corporate social responsibility programme. Her talent acquired her a place in the Odisha team and soon after in the Indian women’s football team.
She won several trophies, medals and certificates. She also played rugby and sepak-takraw.
“I played in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bengal. We once lost in a final match against Manipur. But we also won an exhibition against Nepal in which I was the Indian goalkeeper,” Hindustan Times quoted her as saying.
But all that was long ago. In 2011, she needed a job to support her family and so was forced to quit football. A few years back, Jharsuguda police appointed her as a homeguard, but the wages were low and she opted out.
She also got a job to train students in football at a private school, but again quit, as she was paid only Rs 3,000 instead of the promised Rs 8,000 per month.
She now washes utensils at houses in her neighbourhood and herds their goats.
“My husband is also a daily labourer,” she says. “Unless both of us work, it will be difficult for us to fend for our two children. I don’t enjoy running after the goats, but there is little I can do.”
Tanuja is homeless and lives in a hut on a government plot. The only saving grace is the ration card that gets them rice at the subsidised Rs 1 a kg.
As reports highlighted Tanuja’s plight, the district authorities swung into action and are scouting for a job for her. Jharsuguda district collector Jyoti Ranjan Pradhan told Hindustan Times he has asked the district sports officer to visit Tanuja. “We will try to give her some job as per her educational qualification,” he said.