When we think of the world of sports, the picture is completely dominated by men. Sports women are usually invisibilized, and when it comes to women from the North-East – even more so. Though North-Eastern sports women have proved their mettle in many national and international platforms, most of them remain unknown to the average Indian. If I ask people of the names of Indian sports women, most people will have only a handful of names, and sports women from the North-East are unlikely to feature on the list.
Women sports women from the North-East not only go unnoticed because of the stigma and marginalization of them, but also because of the the lack of representation or misrepresentation of them in Bollywood.
For example, Chak De India, there were two players from Manipur and Mizoram (Molly Zimik and Mary Ralte) in the hockey team. But they were hardly noticed. Except for a few scenes about racism in the film, they are not part of the main storyline of the film.
Even in the biopic of Mary Kom, there was misrepresentation, where an actress (Priyanka Chopra) from mainland was cast in role of Mary Kom, instead of a North-eastern actress, who could have far better represented her.
Our North-Eastern sports women and their achievements often go unseen and unheard. So, let’s take a look at 12 sports women from the North-East who represented India in various international sports and made India proud through their achievements
1. Anshu Jamsenpa (Mountaineering, Arunachal Pradesh)
Anshu Jamsenpa is a mountaineer from Bomdila, Arunachal Pradesh. She became the first woman to scale Mount Everest twice within five days. Earlier in 2011, she had achieved the feat of summiting Mt. Everest twice within 10 days, which was followed by her climbing the mountain from the Nepal side in 2013. She also became the first woman to reach the top of Mt. Everest for the fifth time.
Besides being a mountaineer herself, Anshu is a mountaineering trainer, motivational speaker and also a mother of two children. Her confidence and will-power made her push through the pain and fatigue during the climb and made India proud by holding the Guinness World Record of first women mountaineer to scale Mt. Everest twice within 5 days.
2. Anuradha Devi Thokchom (Hockey, Manipur)
Anuradha Devi Thokchom is a hockey player from Manipur (born in 2 Feb, 1989). She plays as forward in Indian Women’s National Hockey Team. She along with her team made an appearance and played very well at the Rio Olympics 2016.
She has more than 80 international cups to her name and even scored 3-1 over Canada which happened to be India’s final match before the Rio Olympics. Earlier, she won the bronze medal in Asian Games 2014. Despite her young age, Anuradha has made 73 senior appearances for the national team and holds the full confidence of the team.
3. Bombayla Devi Laishram (Archery, Manipur)
Bombayla Laishram is an archer from Imphal, Manipur (born in 22 Feb, 1985). She has represented India in Beijing, London and Rio Olympics. She started archery in 1996 and made her international debut in 2007. She received great recognition after winning gold medal in Commonwealth Games 2010 at Delhi. In the same year, she received Arjuna Award for her achievement. The right-handed player has made many wins as individual and team in various world championships. She is ranked as the 69th archer in the world archery. Daughter of an archer mother and Manipur’s handball coach, she has made India proud at many international platforms.
4. Chekrovolu Swuro (Archery, Nagaland)
Chekrovolu Swuro is an archer from Dimapur, Nagaland (born in 21 Nov, 1982). She has represented India at various international sports events, viz. 2002 and 2006 Asian Games and 2012 Summer Olympics. She was the second Naga – after a gap of 64 years – to make it to the Olympics in 2012. She made her entry in sports at the age of 13 in 1994. She was in the silver medal winning team in Archery World Cup 2011 in Turin, Italy.
5. Dipa Karmakar (Gymnastics, Tripura)
Dipa Karmakar shot to stardom after the Rio Olympics. Hailing from Agartala, Tripura (born in 9 Aug, 1993), she is the first ever Indian woman gymnast to compete in Olympics. She missed the bronze medal in the Olympics by a whisker yet scored billions of hearts. She stood at fourth position in women’s vault in the Rio Olympics. She has began her training since the age of 6 and made through various national and international events. She made her spotlight appearance on winning bronze at 2014 Commonwealth Games at Glasgow. She has a total of 77 medals from the domestic and international events. Her ‘Produnova‘ vault in the Olympics made her coach Bisbeshwar Nandi proud. Her achievements have made her the recipient of Padma Shri and she has even been featured in Indian postal stamp!
6. Gohela Boro (Archery, Assam)
Gohela Boro is another archer from Assam. Overcoming her challenges of poverty – her family work at minimum wage – Gohela has a tally of 77 medals at national, state and district level. At the young age of 19, she won a gold medal at Kerala National Games 2015. While she is well known in Assam, she is lesser known in the nation. Gohela Boro is now suffering from illness, and battling for her life, but has no money and support to recover.
7. H Lal Ruatfeli (Hockey, Mizoram)
Ruatfeli is a hockey player from India. She was the part of Indian Women’s National Hockey team in Rio Olympics. She is in the defender position and played very well with the team. She was also the part of Indian team at South Asian games 2016. After the Rio Olympics her performance, along with other players from North-East, was honoured nationally and on various state levels.
8. Kalpana Devi (Judo, Manipur)
Kalpana Devi is an Indian judoka hailing from Imphal, Manipur (born in 24 Dec, 1989). In September 2010, she won the bronze medal in the Women’s World Cup Judo Championships held in Uzbekistan. She also bagged the first ever bronze medal for India in World Grand Prix Tashkent in Uzbekistan. At the age of 9, in 1998, Devi won the silver medal in the Sub-Junior National Championship. She later won four gold medals at the Junior National Championships and also managed to bag a gold medal at the Asian Junior Judo Championship. She later won bronze medal in Commonwealth Games at Glasgow, 2014 in 52 kg weight class. Besides being a judoka and making India proud, Devi also serves the country as a constable in the Indo-Tibetan Border Police.
9. Mary Kom (Boxing, Manipur)
Born in Kangathei village of Manipur in 24 Nov, 1982, Chungneijang Mery Kom Hmangte (better known as Mary Kom) needs no introduction. She is a five-time World Amateur Boxing Champion. Only having studied till 8th standard, Kom gave her life to sports. Initially interested in football, she became interested in boxing after Dingko Singh’s win at the 1998 Asian Games inspired her. Her career’s first win was in 2000 by winning Best Boxer at state level. Her bronze medal finish at the 2012 London Olympics was the peak of her career. She won her first silver in 2001, followed by the Witch Cup in 2002 and gold at Asian Games in 2003. She is recipient of the prestigious Padma Bhushan in 2013. Also, she became the National Observer of boxing, made by the Indian government. Her autobiography and biopic depict the many hardships in career and personal life.
10. Ngangbam Soniya Chanu (Weightlifting, Manipur)
Soniya Chanu is an Indian weightlifter hailing from Imphal, Manipur (born in 15 Feb, 1980). She won the gold medal twice in 2009 and 2010 at Commonwealth Weightlifting Championship in Malaysia. She won silver in 48 kg weightlifting category in 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. At the 2012 Senior Asian Championships at Pyeongtaek, South Korea she claimed the bronze medal. She has been in this field since 1997 (earlier she was in the field of athletics). Coming from a poor rural family, Chanu has overcome a lot of hurdles to achieve her goals.
11. Saikhom Mirabai Chanu (Weightlifting, Manipur)
Mirabai Chanu is another weightlifter from Imphal, Manipur (born in 8 Aug, 1994). Initially, she used to travel 60 km to learn weightlifting in 2007 at the Khuman Lampak Sports Complex in Imphal. She was awarded the title of Best Lifter at the 2013 Junior National Championship in Guwahati, India. She had won the gold medal at the 2011 International Youth Championship, and another at the South Asian Junior Games. Her phenomenal performance at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow led her to win silver medal in the women’s 48kg class by lifting a total of 170kgs. In 2015, her achievements included a ninth place in the World Championships and at the trials for the Rio Olympics she nearly twelve-year old national record set by the widely-celebrated, multiple-award-winner and her coach Kunjarani Devi. Though she could not win the Rio Olympics, she won a silver in the trials and gave a good competition to her competitors from other countries.
12. Sushila Chanu (Hockey, Manipur)
Sushila is the present captain of Indian Women’s National Hockey Team. Presently, the captain of Indian hockey team, Sushila is still holds her job of ticket-checker at the Indian Railways! Hailing from Imphal, Manipur (born in 25 Feb, 1992), Sushila picked up the hockey stick for the first time at the age of 11. Her biggest achievement as a junior came in 2013 when she captained the team to a bronze medal finish at the Junior World Cup held in Monchengladbach, Germany. Since then, she started playing full-fledged for the senior national team. As defender, she contributed invaluably to India’s fabulous show at the 2015 Hockey World League where they reached the semifinals. She led the team with her half-back position in the Rio Olympics, where our team played phenomenally.
These sports women have not only represented India nationally and internationally but also made India proud. Yet they still remain unknown to most of the population. This list features a lot of women from Manipur and very few from other North-Eastern states – pointing at Manipur’s strong sports development efforts. However, I believe there are a lot more sports women whose identities are hidden or lost from the mainstream. This is why we need more coverage and more representation of North-Eastern sports women. I hope to see more new faces in the field breaking stereotypes!