"It's not a demand, it's a request to the Sports Ministry to stay true to their word," says 28-year-old Ronibala Devi, wife of late Indian footballer Manitombi Singh.
Ronibala is referring to a tweet from Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju on August 9, 2020, the day Manitombi Singh passed away. He was just 39 years-old and succumbed to prolonged illness in hospital.
The tweet read, "I am saddened to hear of the untimely demise of footballer Manitombi Singh. We are trying to work out some emergency funds from the Sports Ministry to support the family in these trying times. The government is committed to support all athletes, present and past."
However, almost three months on from her husband's death, Ronibala is yet to receive any 'emergency funds' from the Sports Ministry.
Manitombi Singh is survived by Ronibala and their ten-year-old son Laishram Amal Singh. They stay in the village of Achanbigei, about eight kilometres north of Imphal City Centre.
And while they continue to wait for the aforementioned funds, the family's financial situation remains precarious.
"Our financial situation is bad, but we are making do with the donations we have received so far. I married quite young, so I did not have any savings or financial safety of my own," Ronibala continued.
"Most of the financial help that we have received so far has been from the football family. Brother Renedy [Singh] (ex-India player and Manitombi's teammate at Mohun Bagan) helped us financially. The NEROCA FC senior and junior teams also contributed. And then there were well-wishers who helped organize the affairs of my husband's last rites."
The chief-minister of Manipur, N Biren Singh - who happens to be an ex-footballer himself and personally knew Manitombi - also made a donation to the family in a personal capacity, mentions Ronibala.
She was a home-maker till Manitombi's death. Her husband was the sole earner in the family, with their income coming through his assignments as a football coach.
Manitombi Singh's family is in need of the Sport Ministry's aid
After his death, Ronibala is uncertain about how she will secure their futures of her child and her. Especially since they had exhausted all the money they had saved up on Manitombi's hospital expenses. The donations have run dry and the fees for their child's private school education also needs to be taken care of.
An e-mail was sent to officials in the Sports Ministry on October 26 enquiring about the emergency funds.
Up until that point, according to Ronibala, there was no communication from any official in the Sports Ministry with her or her family after the minister's tweet.
Ronibala's elder brother P Premjit Singh and former Chennaiyin FC and Mumbai FC footballer Khelemba Singh, who was Manitombi's friend, both confirmed as much.
Amid growing helplessness, Ronibala reached out to Khelemba to possibly amplify the situation.
Khelemba's bank and contact details were then made public on Twitter, requesting any kind of financial help for the family from whomever was willing to donate.
On October 27, an official in the Ministry first made contact with Khelemba Singh to enquire about the family's situation and begin the process of potentially transferring funds under the 'Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay National Welfare Fund for Sportspersons' scheme.
On October 28, Khelemba received another call from a different official.
"I received a call on October 28 and was sent a form, which required details of my playing career and information for monetary transaction. I helped to fill it and send it back," Khelemba said.
Manitombi Singh played for some of the biggest clubs in the country like Mohun Bagan and Salgaocar. Remembered as a 'tough tackling full-back' by former India coach Stephen Constantine, Singh helped India win the LG Cup in 2002 and also represented the country at the 2002 Busan Asian Games.
Additionally, he was part of the NEROCA FC side which won the Manipur State League for the first time. He was also part of the Manipur teams which won the Santosh Trophy for the first two times in their history.
"My message to the Sports Ministry is a request that since the announcement [of providing emergency funds] was made by you, all that I ask is that something comes out of it. Because the family's future is uncertain and your help is much-needed," Ronibala said.
(With inputs from Benjamin Karam)Published 29 Oct 2020, 19:27 IST