Sarita Diswa Magar is one of Nepal’s best women cricket players. As wicket-keeper, she helped bring home the Asian Cricket Council’s U-19 Women’s Championship title from Thailand in 2008. Today, she works as a security guard in her hometown, Nepalgunj. We spoke on International Women’s Day about her journey from a poor family in Nepalgunj to Chiang Mai and back again, as well as the challenges Nepali women and girls face in sports.
How did you get interested in sports?
When I was small, we used to do gymnastics. Since my family lived near the stadium, it was easy to go. We went to compete in Pokhara, and came in third. I was in class five or six.
When I was studying at Mangal Prasad School, we used to play volleyball. There was an annual volleyball and track competition at the school level. We won the Plan Cup [hosted by Plan Nepal] when I was in class eight. Then slowly I made my entry into cricket. We played at the school-school level. On my first day I was just an extra. I had worn half-pants, and because of that they kept me as an extra. They only allowed you to play if you wore track pants. So the next day I bought track pants, and I was finally on the team.
When you played sports, how much did your family support you?
My family gave me a lot. If there was a day when there was no training, Father and Mummy would ask, “Why didn’t you go to training? You have to go daily.” I’m the youngest in my family. I got the most love at home. I could do whatever I wanted and nobody would say no.
How were you chosen for the national team?
I first played at the school level. Then I went with the Nepalgunj team to nationals, starting in 2006. The judges were all there. They watch and make a short list for the national team. They choose 20 or so. Then there is practice, for about one month. If you play well and train well then you have a good chance of getting onto the team. In 2008, our Nepalgunj team came in first at nationals, and seven from our team were chosen for the short list and we trained for the national team.
How well did your team get along?
Seven of us came from Nepalgunj, out of the 14 total on the team. No team has broken that record, even now. We were all friends. But we were placed in rooms with players from the other teams during the training camp, so we got to know one another. Everyone was good to one another.
When you were on the team, who gave you support?
In training, my family forced me a bit. They said, “You need to play. We are a small, poor family. If you play then you’ll make a name for us.” And my coaches, they forced me too.
And what was your experience like in Thailand?
At the beginning it was difficult. The food—the scent, I didn’t like it, you know? So I just ate fruit, but then I became ill. I passed out on the field. Also because Thailand is very hot! I was going to catch a ball and I fainted. An ambulance came, and I spent three or four hours in the hospital.
After that I started eating food, but I had to force myself. My coaches scolded me, telling me I needed to eat. They just served Thai food at the hotel. We didn’t like it so we went out to eat. We found a Panjabi hotel and ate Panjabi food—naan and vegetables.
And we came to the final with Malaysia. We came in first. We won by 48 or 47 runs.
Did you get to know the other national teams?
Yes, we got to know the Bhutan team. Bhutan was staying in our hotel, and they also spoke Nepali. Looking at them, they were Mongolian in appearance, like our Magars, like me. They had boy scout haircuts. They didn’t know how to use “tapain” or “timi,” they called everyone “tãn.” It was easy with them. We made some other friends. We exchanged t-shirts with China.
After you won the 2008 championship, when you returned home, did people’s views of you change?
Yes, a lot. Because I came from a low family, a poor family. At first when we women played cricket, people thought, “What will they do?” We played internationally and won. After that people were very happy, very positive.
When we came back from Thailand, there was a whole line of journalists waiting for us. They all gave us mallas. It was so crowded; I’ve never seen a crowd like that since. I was shy to give an interview.
What should I say, what should I say? I worried. So I ran away from the journalists. I took the baggage trolley and headed for the bus, but one journalist stopped me and asked me, “How much did your friends support you to come all this way and win the tournament?” That was an easy one! I said everyone helped me so much. I said that and went off. When I gave the interview, Father saw it on TV. My father cried when he saw me, from happiness. And when I came here, everybody felt proud thinking that women can do this much. I felt proud too, knowing that I can do so much.
Compared to boys, what challenges do girls face in sports?
Some people would try to dominate us because we were women. Men have been playing from the beginning; women started playing cricket only later. Women have their monthly period. That’s a bit difficult, physically, to run and all. And boys’ view of us is also not good.
And how much did the boys’ view affect you?
In the beginning, people used to say, “These girls want to play cricket. What will they ever be able to do?” Those of us who played, we said “We’ll show you, we’ll do something.” After all that hard work, and the support of the coaches . . . We also worked so hard.
Now this is a broad question, but I want to hear your thoughts. Which are the biggest problems for women in Nepal today, and do you think that all Nepali women face the same problems or do women from different castes, different classes, have different problems?
They certainly face different problems. Regarding problems of women, the government provides a salary to male cricket players because they demanded it. They have facilities. Paras dai [captain of Nepal’s men’s national cricket team] made demands. If women who also worked hard had a chance . . . Like me—it’s because of a lack of money that I left cricket. If the government paid me, I would continue to play cricket.
Sometimes high caste girls might discriminate against another girl who wants to play because she’s from a low caste. That still happens. But now it can’t be said that cricket is just for high castes, not for low castes. A lot has changed. Now everyone is on one level. That’s what I think.
You left the national team after 2008?
Yes. After Thailand I came back, and gave the SLC in 2065. I played once more in nationals.
Why did you leave the national team?
After giving the SLC I got married. After marriage it wasn’t like before, you know? With my family it isn’t easy to play. After a year my son was born. Since I ran off to get married, my friends were also angry. Father and Mummy were also angry. They thought, why did this person who can play so well do this? My captain was angry; she wasn’t speaking to me. But others, the coaches, they called me. “Come play, that stuff doesn’t matter,” they would say.
And since giving the SLC, which jobs have you done?
I was a supervisor for a swimming pool construction. They were building a swimming pool at the stadium. My mother is a pyun at the stadium too. They gave me five thousand [rupees] per month. After that I joined Group 4 [a security firm].
Last Poush, you went to nationals on the Nepalgunj team. Was it just like before?
I went in Poush to Kathmandu to play in nationals. We came in second. What happened was our captain had broken her foot, and two others were in the hospital. We had to play with eight people. It was hard. The final was with APF [the Armed Police Force].
In running, my fitness wasn’t like before. I used to be 48 kilos, now I’ve crossed 50. I was short of breath. I played as opening batsman, like before. The first one or two matches were difficult, especially the batting. But slowly, slowly it became easier, and in the final my batting was pretty good.
Did your husband support you?
Yes, at that point in Poush he had told me, “Go play.” I went to Kathmandu with my son. My son was small; it was difficult to leave him by himself, but the coaches said they could arrange things. He’s so smart, he was sitting on the sidelines cheering for us. He was playing cymbals.
Were you playing with your old Nepalgunj teammates?
Yes. When I left the team, my friends were angry. When I came back, they were happy. They still call me. “You’ll play, won’t you?” they say. Because I was the loudest on the team, the one who did the most comedy! That’s why most of my friends don’t forget me.
And do you have any plans to continue playing cricket? Or study more?
I don’t have much education. That’s a weakness. In terms of playing cricket, I would still play but my husband doesn’t really have a fixed job. He does painting and such around Shantinagar. Sometimes there’s work, sometimes there isn’t. If my husband gets a good job, I’ll continue playing. They still call me, but I have the family issues. I have to work. But I want to play, what to do?
This interview has been translated from Nepali, edited, and condensed.
Cover photo: The jungle north of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Tobi Gaulke/Flickr. Republished under CC license BY-NC-ND 2.0.