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Saturday, February 29, 2020

Chak de India


Girls from Jharkhand have demonstrated they can rise up against extreme odds and apathy
TSI | Issue Dated: November 30, -0001, New Delhi
Tags : Spain's Gasteiz Cup | CDLS |

When Babita 14, one of the 18 backward and poor Jharkhand girls who have recently won the third place in Spain’s Gasteiz Cup, scored the first of the two goals in a promotional match at New Delhi’s Modern School against a team comprising girls from the host school and 35 other countries, she was elated, exclaiming “Hum world champion banna chahtey hein!” (We want to be the world champions)


The disadvantaged Jharkhand girls’ football team `Yuva’ coming from the most backward tribal areas of the country, were here staying at the Modern School to participate in this football tournament which had student teams from schools in China, USA, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Pakistan, Italy, France and Dubai as part of the social interaction programme of Community Development Leadership Summit (CDLS) at the school. This was done to promote the spirit of ‘unity and inclusion through sport’ under the aegis of Modern School and “UMMEED” a non-profit NGO started by a class 12 student Avanee Singh.


What has captured the imagination of the people, however, is not the victory or the third position in Spain but their dogged fight against official apathy and their struggle against patriarchy and other societal odds.


Goalkeeper Sunita Kumari has publicly stated that at the beginning, sport officials in the state, rather than guiding and helping them, treated them as chattel and maid servants asking them to scavenge the floor, dust their houses and offices besides trying to outrage their modesty. Their rise to international glory was like walking on a razor sharp hill or a tweezers grip.


Praising the technical expertise of the Jharkhand girls, who have come up against all the odds possible, Lata Vaidyanathan, principal, Modern School, stated, “For many people–most especially, adolescent girls–teams have the potential to offer a network of positive role models, a consistent group of friends, and the opportunity to build confidence in themselves.”


Franz Gastler, an American who first came to Jharkhand to teach English, is the founder of NGO Yuwa. While teaching English in the Hutup village outside state capital Ranchi, Franz asked one of the girls what she liked to do in her free time. She said she liked to play football and wished to be part of a team. Franz told her that if she found some other girls who felt similarly, he could lead practices for them. He saw the enthusiasm and dedication of the girls and recognized that a football team could be the perfect platform upon which to promote education and instill confidence. However, Franz laments that these girls cannot practise with other girls in Jharkhand simply because there aren’t any such teams in that state. At the most, they get an opportunity to play against boys. Except in urban metros like Delhi, Goa, Kolkata and Mumbai, women soccer hasn’t really taken shape in India. No surprise that Franz also accepted the national award for Best Promotion of Sports in Education from legendary athlete Milkha Singh and actor Ranbir Kapoor.


According to Rose Thompson, director of Yuwa, the girls’ parents are now justifiably proud of their achievements. After all, no one expected them to do so well in face of rank official apathy, if not outright hostility. Clearly, it has been a rocky ride. Jharkhand, the girls’ home state, is considered Asia’s number one trafficking centre. Girls here are married at 15 and spend most of their lives doing household chores. Says Thompson, “Girls playing football here was a sacrilege!” When they went to get their birth certificate for their Spanish visas, they were reportedly slapped by local panchayat members. But for Gastler, they would never have got their visas. Most of the girls’ parents are either farmers or labourers. When asked how the cause of these girls can be uplifted, Franz stated that NGOs like `Ummeed’ in Delhi and some corporate houses have been kind enough to take care of the girls till now but the need of the hour is that the government must come up and provide much-needed assistance. For those who care to know, Jharkhand was once regarded as a cradle of hockey.


Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, the SS School Khunti in Jharkhand produced some of the best young hockey players, many of whom went on to represent India. The school won several junior national hockey tournaments and was poised for greater glories when continued official apathy and lack of opportunities and finance ended all hopes. Today hockey is not the sport which it once was in and around Ranchi and other centres. The loss is India’s. Ranchi and Jharkhand may have become synonymous with cricket super star Mahendra Singh Dhoni today, but not too long back, it represented the best of young boys and girls trying for national and global glory. If only they had the backing of officials and corporate sponsorship, it could have been another story,a story worth teling.  

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017