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FOLLOWING REPORTS that her family in Haridwar was subjected to casteist slurs earlier this week, India forward Vandana Katariya, whose heroic performance was one of the highlights of the hockey team’s dream run at the Tokyo Olympics, underlined on Friday that they were playing for the country and such incidents should not happen.
After India lost to Argentina in the semifinals on Wednesday, Katariya’s family alleged that a group of youths in their locality in Haridwar burst crackers, danced in celebration and passed casteist remarks.
Speaking after India’s 3-4 loss to Britain in a hard-fought bronze medal playoff match on Friday, Katariya, who scored one of India’s three goals, said she had heard about the incident but hadn’t spoken to her family yet.
Asked if she had any message for her family, the 26-year-old said: “Hum log country ke liye khel rahe hai… aur jo bhi kuch ho raha hai… like ‘caste-ing baazi’… jo maine thodasa suna tha, woh sab na ho. (We are playing for the country… and whatever is happening… like casteist comments… whatever little I have heard, shouldn’t happen).”
“Sirf hockey ke baare mein soche, aur young girls hain, aur hum log country ke liye khel rahe hain, toh hum sab ko ek hona chahiye, matlab har cheez ko. (Only think about hockey, there are young girls, we are playing for the country, so we have to be one, I mean in every aspect),” she said.
“I have kept my phone switched off from the time I have come here so I haven’t spoken to anyone (in the family)… When I speak to them, I’ll comment on this incident,” she said.
Speaking to The Indian Express on Thursday, her brother, Chandra Shekhar, had said: “The youths said how can people of my caste play in the national team? Our family is in a state of fear because they also threatened to kill us.”
Police said an FIR under IPC Section 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) and SC/ST Act was lodged against three persons, Vijay Pal, Ankur Pal and Sumit Chauhan, and other unidentified persons. Vijay Pal (25) and his brother Ankur Pal (21) have been arrested.
Haridwar City SP Kamlesh Upadhyay said the two brothers told police that they had a longstanding dispute with Katariya’s family. Upadhyay said searches are on to nab Chauhan.
Ahead of the match on Friday, police personnel were deployed outside Katariya’s house. “The situation was peaceful today,” said Chandra Shekhar.
Katariya’s road to Tokyo was lined with challenges. When she was growing up, many in the neighborhood didn’t want her to play hockey. She could do so only after her late father, Nahar Singh, took them on. Three months ago, when her father died, she couldn’t attend his funeral as she was confined to a bio-bubble in Bengaluru while training for the Olympics.
Despite this, she emerged as one of India’s star players in Tokyo. After a rocky start, India qualified for the knockout rounds for the first time in history thanks largely to Katariya’s hat-trick in the last group stage game against South Africa.
The team then stunned former champions Australia in the quarterfinals before losing to Argentina in the semifinals and Britain in the bronze medal match. They ultimately finished fourth, which is their best finish in 41 years.
“First of all, our entire team has worked very hard for this and I am really, really proud of them. We improved match by match. It feels really nice to reach this far,” Katariya said.
Meanwhile, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami on Friday announced an award of Rs 25 lakh to Katariya.
– With inputs from Lalmani Verma in Dehradun
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