Image Credits: @AIFF
Many women footballers in India have fought against all odds early in their careers to become important players in the National and International arena in the later years.
One latest example is Nitu Linda, a crucial player in the Indian team for the FIFA under-17 Women’s World Cup. After having lost her mother at the age of nine, she spent her childhood either managing the household or working in the fields and brick kilns. In between, she was going to school and playing football on ordinary village pitches. But despite all the problems, her family stood firmly behind her and today, Nitu is a part and parcel of the National Team set-up.
A midfielder, Nitu was a key player for her team in the World Cup. She is a teenager, who hails from Haldgam village in Ranchi, Jharkhand, but has an old head on young shoulders as she has struggled enough throughout her childhood before she could reach this level. Her father, Soharai Oraon, is a landless peasant, who once used to work in someone else’s field. Once he retired because of advancing age, it was left to her brother, Dhaneshwar Oraon, to work in brick kilns.
“Nitu is a very hardworking girl. After her mother died, she often took care of all the work in the house - she sometimes cooked for us and did the household chores. Yet she managed to pursue her career in football and today seeing her perform at such a high level gives me immense joy and satisfaction,” Soharai said.
Despite the difficulties she faced in her life, Nitu remained committed to football because of her unending love for the game. She also thanked her father, brothers and sister, for providing great support to her during the difficult times.
“Sometimes when she went for practice, I would cook food and wash her shoes, so that she could rest a little after the training sessions. These are very small things that I could do for her. Before, I could hardly afford good food for her, but now when she tells me on the phone that she is on a proper diet in the camps, I feel relieved,” Nitu’s father said.
There were times when Soharai had to combine the roles of both father and mother while dealing with Nitu when she was too young. “When her mother passed away, it was a difficult period for us and we were all heart broken. I knew I had to stay strong to support my children then. I did my best to work in fields as a farmer, but now I want to stay at home and take care of my children,” Soharai said.
Nitu was an important cog in the wheel in the national team set-up and scored two goals each in the 2022 SAFF U-18 Women’s Championship in Jamshedpur and the 2021 SAFF U-19 Women’s Championship in Bangladesh. That was the time when Nitu’s brother Dhaneshwar wanted to see her play live from the stands in the stadium.
At the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, Dhaneshwar came to Bhubaneswar to see his sister play for the first time in his life.
“I was amazed to see such a big crowd in the stadium. I never thought Nitu would play in such an atmosphere. When I saw Nitu on the field, I could not hold back my tears. This was a moment I had been waiting for so long,” said Dhaneshwar.
“When Nitu started playing, she did not have proper shoes. I worked very hard for a month and saved some money to buy her shoes. I want to do everything for her so that she can play more games for her country,” her brother said.