Anitha Pauldurai was among the seven sportspersons who were selected to receive India’s fourth-highest civilian honour on January 26, 2021.
The former Indian women’s basketball star was pleasantly surprised at being awarded the Padma Shri, given the fact that she had not won the Arjuna Award (India’s highest sports honour) during her career at all.
The 35-year-old has had a long and distinguished career, spanning 17 years, for the Indian women’s basketball team. She feels the Padma Shri has come as a much-needed recognition for her endeavours for the country.
“I am delighted to have won the Padma Shri award. I can’t express my feeling in words. I have been playing basketball as a professional for a long time. I think that this is a reward for what I have achieved for the country over the years,” Anitha told DT Next.
So, who is Anitha Pauldurai and what has she achieved for India in her career?
Volleyball, Athletics and finally Basketball
Anitha hails from Chennai in Tamil Nadu and started playing basketball at the age of 11. However, she was not a huge fan of the sport during her childhood.
It was volleyball and athletics that captured her imagination back then. But noticing her height, her school basketball coach advised her to try the game out. The more she played, the more she started loving the game and ultimately made a career out of it.
She is a Bachelor of Commerce graduate from Madras University and did her MBA from Annamalai University, all the while playing basketball. That helped her get a job at the Southern Railways in sports quota.
Rising Star Club
Anitha made her India debut during her college days and it was largely thanks to a local club in Chennai, Rising Star Club, which played a major role in propelling her career.
Started by her school coach Sampath, Anitha made her name playing for the club and was noticed by the national team scouts. The club still exists and is very well known in Chennai.
Representing the Southern Railways and Tamil Nadu, she has also won more than 30 medals at the national championships.
Achievements with the Indian team
Anitha, ever since making her debut in 2001 for the Indian team, quickly became a mainstay and captained the country at the tender age of 19. In doing so, she became the youngest ever to captain India’s senior Basketball team.
She captained the Indian team for eight years and represented the country at many big-ticket events like the Asian Championship, Commonwealth Games 2006 and Asian Games 2010.
She led India to a silver medal finish at the Asian Indoor Games in 2009 which was held in Vietnam. In 2011, she captained the country to a gold medal at the South Asian Beach Games in Sri Lanka.
In 2012, Anitha was also selected to play in an international women’s professional league in Thailand. In 2013, Anitha helped India win the inaugural 3x3 Asian Basketball Championships in Qatar.
Motherhood and comeback
She took a break from the game in 2015 to start a family. But the inspirational star she is, Anitha made a comeback in 2017 to play for the country.
She was indeed the first woman basketball player to do so and served as an inspiration for others such as Stephy Nixon to do the same later. And her comeback was spectacular, leading India to a Division B FIBA Women’s Asia Cup triumph.
She retired from international duty after that and coached the India U16 side to the title in Division B of the FIBA U16 Women’s Asian Championship in 2017.
Though considered the face of Indian women’s basketball alongside Geethu Anna Jose, she never received the Arjuna Award.
But the Padma Shri award has finally given her the recognition she has so richly deserved.
“Although I was a national team player for a long time, I didn’t get enough recognition. Only when you are bestowed with awards like these, the general public will become aware of your achievements. I think that these awards will help grow Tamil Nadu basketball in the coming years,” she told DT Next.