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Keerath Bhandaal and Suniti Damani may be little known names in the world of cuesports but have reignited the age old debate on pay disparity, saying it is "disgraceful" to be paid five times less than men for a national title despite representing India for many years.
"We are still very much on our own despite playing for India for so many years. I won a national title earlier this year and all I got was Rs 5000. It is disgraceful to say the least," Bhandaal, who was all of 10 when she made her World Championship debut in 2007, told PTI.
Delhi-based Bhandaal has claimed national titles in both billiards and snooker while Damani is among the country's leading snooker players, having won the national pool title in 2012.
Besides their achievements at the national level, they have represented India at multiple World Championships.
The pittance of prize money was for the junior girls' title while the previous season, she got Rs 10,000 for winning the senior billiards title last year while the men received Rs 50,000.
"The prize money we get has more of a sentimental value than monetary value. It is unreal to think a national champion is getting Rs 10,000. They might as well not pay us," joked Bhandaal, who is still pursuing academics and is studying in the city's Jesus and Mary College.
The men not only get paid five times more, they also get the bulk of the public sector jobs. Sixteen-time World Champion Pankaj Advani is employed by ONGC while his teammate at the recently concluded Asian Snooker Championship, is with the Railways.
"The disparity is everywhere be it the prize money or finding jobs or sponsors. Most leading male players have the job security while the women continue to be ignored," said Damani, who juggles with a private job in Kolkata and training stints in Delhi.
"I have taken a break from my job to come here and practice. Despite being the leading player in the country for so many years, I still have to fend for myself. I still feel I am treated like a beginner. It is disheartening to be honest.
"There has to be a system where top 8 players of the country don't have to worry about anything other than the game. It surely seems a far cry at the moment," added Damani.
India's biggest name in the business, Advani, says there are some pressing issues in Indian cuesports that need to be addressed.
"You have to ask the federation about the prize money disparity and other issues faced by women players. I can only say that all Indian players should be looked after well. They can only perform better if they don't have to worry about their future," said Advani.
S Balasubramanian, secretary of he Billiards and Snooker Federation of India (BSFI), promised an increase in the women's prize money from next year onwards but it would still not be at par with the men.
"It has been decided that BSFI will significantly increase the prize money in women's events. As far as women not getting jobs is concerned, it is up to the public sector companies to hire them. We can only recommend," he added.