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Sports?—?such as wrestling, archery and kabaddi?—?has long been a modest ticket to a better life for small-town India.
For the girls of Shahabad, that ticket is hockey. Jasjeet Kaur, 25, followed sister Rajwinder into hockey, and at 17, got a job with the Indian Railways.
“If it wasn’t for hockey, I wouldn’t have a job, even if I’d been a brilliant student.”

It’s 5 am on a midsummer morning. Girls, aged seven to 17, ride in on bicycles. It’s time for the morning practice session. There will be one more in the evening. The daily ritual starts with them watering the ground with sprinklers, washing the balls in a little pool of water, and then starting exercise.
Twelve-year-old Udham Singh has taken a knock to the head from a stray, powerfully hit ball. The seniors check for serious injuries. But the only consolation Udham now gets, silent tears streaming down his face, ice pack clutched to his head, is: “Sher ko chot nahi lagti (A tiger doesn’t show pain)”.

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