“My father’s dream of becoming a footballer has now become my dream and I will definitely fulfill it”, says Preeti , the daughter of a daily wage labourer. In higher secondary school now, she says she had to settle for the arts stream rather than science because of financial constraints.
“I am old enough to understand the reality and hardships my parents face to look after the four of us kids.” So she opted for the cheaper course in order to accommodate the needs of her sister and two brothers.
But that did not stop her playing football, a passion since childhood. Since 2015, she has been training under the village girls’ football project run by the NGO Gaurav Vikas Mahila Manch.
Preeti was one of the 60 village girls who showed off their soccer skills at a recent exhibition football match organized by Bihar Women’s Sports Promotion Association (BWSPA) at St. Xavier’s College of Management and Technology, Patna. The teenagers came from socially marginalized communities.
Preeti says, “No matter what comes my way, I will never stop playing football and will become an IAS officer one day.”
Kajal and her team of girls from Gunpura village near Phulwari Sharif had beaten off some rowdy boys who occupied the common playing field ground and denied her team the space to play football. The incident was taken up by the local police station.
“When we went to file a complaint against being harassed by the boys, the policeman said that girls shouldn’t have insisted on playing football. But we were strong. We knew our rights. We filed a complaint against the boys. When my family came to know that the police were involved in this matter, they got scared.” Kajal had to stop playing football for the next six months due to family pressure. But that social pressure and fear didn’t stop her making a comeback on football ground. Gaurav Vikas Mahila Manch facilitated her formal training. From then onwards she has been playing in football tournaments across the districts of Bihar.. She is playing her second consecutive exhibition match at St. Xavier’s College ground, Patna.
Taking pride in her father who is a farmer, she says, “I wanted to become police officer since childhood, my father always encouraged me to play such games so that I can make myself fit for the service and I will make him proud one day.”
Not all parents have been supportive of their daughters’ football initiative. Naazma Praveen studying in class six was constantly punished by her parents for her constant insistence of participating in football practice. It took a deal of counselling and negotiation with her parents by her mentors from the NGO ‘Izaad’, and finally she is on the ground playing for her team and is happier than ever.
Sumaiya Praveen used to play football in secret, hiding from her parents. Her parents did not encourage sports for girls. One day she was spotted playing football with her friends in a nearby park. Her parents and elder brother were furious. The Izaad team intervened and it was after a great deal of persuasion, when they saw her skills in one of the football matches organized by the NGO, that Sumaiya’s parents finally relented.
“It is the patriarchal system and the feudal thinking that prevents our girls from reaching their full potential. Why are girls everywhere stopped from playing team sports? The real reason is that the woman is denied the right to her own body and her own freedoms. Why shouldn’t the girls use the public playing fields that are always captured by the boys?,” asks Sudha Varghese, whose outfit ‘Nari Gunjan’ strongly supports team sports as a way to challenge the feudal mindset.
“As Jesuit educationists, we at St. Xavier’s are committed to the holistic development of all, with a special love for those who are victims of social injustice. We will gladly support such initiatives that help girls from the margins develop to their full potential, be it in sports or academics,” says Tomy Nishaant, the principal of St Xavier’s College of management and technology.
Keerti, a well known social activist, and the driving force behind the BWSPA initiative, is also the Country Head of Caritas Suisse. “The idea is not to go for mere project funding for a one time event, just to make a point. We need to reach out in a sustainable way to help hundreds of girls reach their potential. That’s why those who think that girls need to be given a chance have to come together and pool resources. It’s a small start, but with a big challenge. How do we provide empowerment to lakhs of girls from remote and backward villages in Bihar? Well, let us start first with the villages that are in Patna District.”
Keerti acknowleged the support of several groups that joined hands with Caritas Suisse to organise the event, and also who have pledged onward support. “BWSPA thanks our regular supporters St. Xavier’s Colleges, Tarumitra, Newsnet One, and those who have provided financial and technical resources such as Oxfam, Anshul Homes, SIS, International School, Ican and many others. We have received support in different ways from public servants, local administrators, Unicef Bihar as well. We believe that together we have made a good start in promoting women’s sports in Bihar.
The last word must go to these Bihari girls who have goals beyond the goal post. As the event concluded, they chanted a slogan. “Abhi to ye angraayi hai, aage aur ladai hai.”(We are just yawning, a new fight is dawning)
With inputs from Ravi Ranjan Kumar