Kapilas Bhuyan

The first time ever I came across the name Jyoti Sunita Kullu was precisely two-decade ago. Indian women hockey team was doing very well during then in the international circuit. India could win a gold medal by defeating the host England at Manchester Commonwealth Games by 3-2 goals in 2002, and that was a moment of history.

Jyoti Sunita Kullu

It was big news back home as after years of struggle the women national hockey squad could dazzle with the shinning gold. It was the 24-year-old Jyoti Sunita Kullu of Bagbura village, Baragaon block from Sundargarh district who could score the winning goal against the host country to get to the top. Besides, Jyoti alone could score 4 goals in the said Commonwealth Games. Before that, in the same year, though the Indian National Women Hockey Team couldn’t qualify for the World Cup, they had won the bronze medal in the Champions Challenge Trophy held at Johannesburg, South Africa. Jyoti was the top scorer with 5 goals to her credit.

Subsequently, in 2003 Indian Women Hockey Team had won gold in the Tri-Nation Hockey Tournament and Afro-Asian Games held in Russia and Hyderabad respectively. In the very next year India again defeated Japan by 1-0 and won the Gold. Jyoti had scored a total 5 goals in the same tournament which had paved the way for India to become the champion. India again won Gold in the Four-Nation Tournament held in 2005 at Singapore, whileJyoti was the part of the national women hockey team. 

How did Jyoti come to play hockey? In a recent visit to Hatia in Jharkhand to document the history and growth of hockey in Sundargarh I asked Jyoti about it during a tete-a-tete. “I was basically into athletics in school. It was Sobha Kullu, my physical education teacher who had played at the national level during then had suggested me to play hockey”, Jyoti reminisced. 

With the inspiration derived from SobhaKullu, Jyoti attempted for playing hockey, and got selected to the Panposh Sports Hostel, Rourkela in 1989 and underwent rigorous training. While being there she played for Hockey Odisha for National Junior tournament and got noticed by one and all. Subsequently she moved to the Hockey Academy at Kapurthala in Punjab being placed as an employee of the Railway Coach Factory.  

She got into the national women’s hockey team to play the Indira Gandhi Gold Cup hockey tournament held in January, 1996 at New Delhi, and with this her international career got into the roller coaster ride until 2007 when she retired. Jyoti being part of the national women hockey team India own the silver medal in 1998 Asian Games held at Bangkok, Thailand where she had scored 3 goals. 

While the national women hockey team went for Netherlands tour in 2006, Jyoti Sunita was selected as the captain, and subsequently, she also had led the national team to represent at the 2006 FIH Women Hockey World Cup held in Madrid as the skipper. While she was playing at the forward position, there were two other girls, viz. Subhadra Pradhan and Binita Toppo from Sundargarh as the defenders. However, India ended up in the 11th position in this World Cup.

Besides she being the flag bearer of India in Doha Asiad held in 2006, the Indian national women hockey team won the bronze under the captainship of Jyoti Sunita Kullu.  

Thus, Jyoti had a fairly successful career having played a total 179 international tournaments over 12 years from 1996 to 2007 when she decided to retire. In her retiring year in 2007 Jyoti was awarded with the most coveted Arjun Award by Govt. of India for her lifetime contribution to Indian sports. 

It needs to be mentioned here that Jyoti had been the only woman hockey player from Odisha to receive the Arjun Award until 2022 when Deep Grace Ekka was chosen as the second person for the same.   

In a nutshell, Jyoti’s secret of success could be traced to her silent demeanor, hard work, patience and speed.

(The writer is a Senior Journalist and National Award-winning Filmmaker.)