“To play for as long as she has been playing and inspiring others the way she has, Bembem Devi is nothing short of a leading light to not only footballers but athletes across. Her achievements are tremendous and I wish her the best in life.” – Indian National Team captain Sunil Chhetri
The quest of following onea s dream, in a country built around all kinds of negative dogmas, is not only challenging, but depends solely on the basis of sacrifice. India, for long, has been a country where sexism is practiced on a daily basis. The country has been plagued from female foeticide to rapes, in the last couple of decades and although, sex ratio has increased to 943 females per 1000 males, crimes perpetuated on women, are at an all time high. With the turn of the millennium, women, are on par with men at almost everything and have even left a patriarchal society reeling, at some professions. Still, Women, are not given the authority to build on their own ideas and possibly are left stranded for freedom at every point. When it comes to a passiona , India is arguably one of the many places in the world, where a ita counts for nothing, and could be easily battered, bruised and ultimately crucified. The chance to let a girl, follow her a dreamsa , her a ambitionsa , her a passiona , is probably a thing to laugh at, in India. Women and their choice are seldom given wings to fly and even if they are, they have to reel against the cage of society.
a Football is my lifea , says Bembem Devi, proudly, passionately and perhaps romantically. Yet when, Bembem asserts her love for football, thousands of adherents, who probably claim that they have lived for football, are shunned into silence. The 34 year old, has perhaps sacrificed everything for the a beautiful gamea . In India a normal woman at thirty four, is probably a mother of two, settled with her husband and technically, a housewife. But Bembem is an exception. The female version of AS Roma ace Daniele de Rossi, gets up early, focuses on her fitness, trains rigorously and tries to improve her technique, every day. Bembem, is married. Not to a male counterpart, but to the a beautiful gamea . Hence when, her picturesque image, dissecting the center of the pitch is witnessed, people rarely question her abilities and are awestruck by the a enginea like running of a woman in her mid-thirties. Bembem, has a steam unparalleled in the current setup of Indian National Womena s Team. A steam, which can perhaps inspire the whole populace of women in the nation.
Her journey, like all heroes, was not easy, but filled with struggle.
Born in the scenic capital of Manipur, Imphal, Bembem Devi was not your average child. Gifted with a genius of a brain, Bembem was enthusiastic yet shy, exuberant yet demure. Hence, she embarked on the motto of a actions speak louder than wordsa and has carried that persona with her, ever since. Her a do or die attitudea is not evident inside the locker room, but on the pitch. Captain of Indian Womena s National Team, Bembem, relies on setting examples for her teammates to follow. She inspires them, not by her words, but by her actions.
Robust as a child, Bembem took to football at the age of 10 and has since then been in a 24 year old relationship with the a beautiful gamea . Like all Indian parents, Bembema s forced her to study. Her passion for the ball, was thwarted by the increasing efforts of her father to force her to become brilliant, academically. If the efforts of her family, to crucify her passion, were not enough, the society created a void for Bembema s dream and the age old dogmas, revolving around a girls are not allowed to play sportsa , constantly badgered her increasing love towards a footballa .
Genius is, as genius does. And Bemebm, came in with a plan to fool the Indian society. She cut her hair short. With a sturdy physique , short hair and over-sized clothes, it was easy for Bembem to pass off as a boy. She even took an alias name of a Boboa , to seal shut her fool proof approach. A twelve year old Bembem, constantly hovered around the playing fields of her colony, hoping for a chance to kick the ball.
She would watch the boys, playing football. Enjoy, have a great time and return back home. But, the chance to kick the ball, still eluded her. After a long wait, the boys, finally took note of Bembema s increasing presence around the playing fields and invited her to play. It is in the playing grounds on Imphal, that Bembem got committed to the beautiful game. Her daily regime of practicing with the ball, focusing on fitness, reaped fruits as a twelve year old Bembem, evolved as a player and became so good, that now the colony boys wanted to play alongside her, wanted to be a part of Bembema s team. However, her colony members eventually discovered that a Boboa was actually a Bembema . Till then, she had already became an integral part of the colonya s team and Bembema s secret became privy only to her teammates. She began to play local matches, with her team and often emerged as the best player on the pitch. Word soon began to spread like wildfire and Bembema s secret was finally discovered. However, this did not deter her and a captain of a local womena s side YAWA, took Bembem, under his wings.
Under professional training, Bembem excelled and was consequently selected for Manipura s Under 13 team in 1991. Her selection, marked the start of the greatest careers in Indian Womena s football. Her performances for the state team did not go unnoticed and Bembem was quickly signed by another outfit named, Sun Club Mongshangei in 1993.
When Bembem turned 15 in 1995, she made her international debut for India. However, the turning point in Bembema s career came a year later in 1996, when she was part of the Indian squad which drawn alongside Nepal and Japan, in the 1996 Asian Games. Although, the Indian contingent lost all their matches, Bembem stood out. Her control with the ball, technique and skill, was unprecedented for a 15 year old girl, who had just started playing ball, five years ago.
Since then, Bembem Devi is a name synonymous to Indian Womena s Football. Her performances were recognized by the governing body of football in India and Bembem, became the first player to win the AIFF Woman Footballer Of The Year Award, in 2001. The AIFF, also rewarded her with an armband to captain the National Team in AFC Qualifying competition, held in 2003 in Thailand. It is under the leadership of Bembem Devi, that the Indian contingent won trophies such as 11th South Asian Games in 2010 and SAFF Championship in 2012 and 2014.
On 9th June 2014, Maldivian football club Radiant SC, announced the signing of Bembem Devi. After coming on as a substitute in her debut for the Maldivian outfit, Bembem lit the stadiums of Maldives on fire. In the finals of the Maldivian league, held between Radiant SC and Maldives National Defense force, Bembem scored in the 9th and 26th minute to help her club, to a historic title triumph. Bembem, was awarded the Player Of The Tournament, with six goals and four assists in three matches.
Although, her goal scoring tally even for India, parallels many womena s strikers, Bembem Devi plays in the heart of midfield as a center mid and patrols her territory with utmost grace and precision. The illustrious 19 year long career of Bembem Devi was awarded a second AIFF Woman Footballer Of The Year Award, in 2013.
Bembem Devi, is one of the many role model in the Indian society which enable girls to see a light at the end of the tunnela . Her footballing career is unparalleled and perhaps the greatest of all time in Indian Womena s Football. A lion heart of a woman, Bembem wants to continue her affair with football, even after retiring and expresses her desire to become a coach. Nevertheless, the relationship of Bembem Devi with football, is arguably the greatest witnessed in the Indian peninsula.
Current Indian Women’s Football Team striker Jyoti Burrett on Bembem Devi:
I look at Bembem’s commitment on the field, day in and day out, and can’t help but be motivated to give my 100%too. Her consistency demands inspiration.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Tanvie Hans on Bembem Devi:
After 19 year representing India, I don’t think there is another female footballer with her level of experience in the country. I am sure there is a lot I can learn form her.