Darjeeling, Feb. 16: Bhima Chettri and Puja Kachu were victims of child labour not too long ago. Today, the two youngsters are representing Bengal in hockey with Bhima even captaining the state's Under-14 girls' team.
Bhima, a resident of Rimbick in Darjeeling subdivision, was seven when she had been sent to Kalimpong, about 100km away, where she had to help a family in domestic chores. "I was told that I would be sent to school but that never happened," said Bhima.
Puja, from Mainaguri in the Dooars, too, was sent to Kalimpong to work as a domestic help at about the same age as Bhima. Puja's story was just similar: "I, too, was told that I would be sent to school but the family didn't keep the word."
|Bhima Chettri and Puja Kachu Bengal's Under-14 girls' hockey team|
Sister Subeshna Thapa, director of Bal Suraksha Abhiyan Trust, which is based in Kalimpong, and her team that has been fighting child labour since 2006 managed to bring a ray of hope in the lives of the little girls.
"We want the society to know their stories so that everyone can learn a lesson. In 2012, we approached the family where Bhima was being kept and convinced them that what they were doing was not right. The family agreed to let Bhima go. In Puja's case, we had to conduct a raid with the help of police and rescue her from her employer," said Sister Subeshna.
The two girls were sheltered at the home run by the trust and sent to St Michael's School in Darjeeling. The school changed the duo's life.
Prakash Rai, who coaches the school hockey team, said: "I must say the two girls picked a lot of hockey within a short span."
Such has been their growth rate that the two were among the six girls selected from Darjeeling district to be part of Bengal's Under-14 hockey team.
And it was no surprise that Bhima was made the captain of the Bengal team at the 61st National School Games, which was held at Ranchi, Jharkhand, from January 4 to 8.
Speaking over the phone from Calcutta, Krishna Mondal, manager of the Bengal team, said: "Yes, Bhima was the captain of the team and the two girls were good in their category. It would be great if they could come and stay in Calcutta and pursue hockey."
The team won two games but lost to Jharkhand in the quarter final.
Bhima, who studies in Class VIII, goes to her family once in a while. She has parents, four sisters and five brothers. In fact, just before she was to leave for Jharkhand, Bhima suddenly did not feel like going. "I really thank Sister Subeshna for making me realise the opportunity that lay before me," said Bhima.
While Bhima's family is aware of her success, Puja has never gone home after her rescue in 2012. "We have learnt that her father is no more and mother is untraceable. Still, we are encouraging her to visit the family before the school reopens. She is planning to visit her family in the Dooars this week," said Sister Subeshna.
Puja, a Class VII student, has three brothers and a sister.
Both Bhima and Puja practise about three hours at the school every day. "When it rains, the hockey team trains in the school hall," said Rai.
While hockey is providing a ray of hope to the young girls, the duo have not yet thought of pursing the sport professionally. Surprisingly, both want to join the police and for the same reason. "I want to be a police woman so that all the evils of our society can be ended. I think police can do much but in many cases they look the other way," said Puja.