‘Play with an open heart,’ says Padma Shri winner Vandana Katariya

“Play with an open heart and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. We learn from our mistakes so we should not be afraid of them.” Indian women’s hockey team forward Vandana Katariya, the first Indian woman to score a hat-trick in the Olympics, has this piece of advice for the team that finished in third place at the recently concluded 2022 Asia Cup.

The forward, born to a Dalit family with her father working as a master technician for Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) in Haridwar, was honoured with the Padma Shri this year.

Despite challenging circumstances, Vandana scored a hat-trick at the Olympics in a match against South Africa during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She also has the distinction of being part of the team that won a gold medal at the 2017 Asia Cup as well as the team that won a silver medal at the 2018 Asian Games, a truly meteoric rise for the 29-year-old.

Her successes, however, didn’t come without setbacks. She was subjected to several casteist slurs from upper caste men in her village Roshanabad after losing to Argentina in the semi-finals of the summer Olympics in Tokyo. The men even went so far as to blame the loss on their being too many Dalit players in the team.

Vandana has put that in the past though, and shares her excitement at being awarded the Padma Shri.

“I didn’t even know that I was going to get the award,” she says. “I had gone on a team dinner and found out when I got several messages on my phone.”

She credits her achievements to the support of her team and the government and dedicates the Padma Shri in particular to her father, who sadly passed away in 2020 during training for the Olympics.

“We went to the Asia Cup thinking we have to do our best,” says Vandana of the hockey team, adding that despite not winning the trophy the team learn’t a lot during the competition.

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