Putting their best foot forward

The beautiful game of football is now giving the much-needed boost to the self-confidence of young girls in Murshidabad. Shiv Sahay Singh takes a look


At a time when there is so much euphoria over World Cup 2010 — perhaps the biggest sporting event in the world — in faraway Bengal's border district of Murshidabad young minority girls are trying to assert their freedom through football.

In the three blocks of Jalangi, Hariharpur and Beldanga where girls always run the risk of being trafficked or sold or lured by jobs elsewhere, football has come as an instrument of empowerment and it is giving the much-needed boost to the self-confidence of these young girls.

Roja Khatun (16) had not dreamt of playing football over the last few years. However, when she saw girls practicising football she was tempted to join them. Now Roja is one of the best players in her block. She started playing barely in April this year and now she thinks of registering with the Indian Football Association (IFA) and to play for bigger clubs.

Roja is among 50 such girls who are practising football regularly. They have a dream of making it big in Kolkata and other places. All the 50 girls, mostly from the minority community, regularly practise in their shorts and tees. Camps are held twice a week where the girls practise football. Coaches from Kolkata come and train them.Various football coaches, including Kuntala Ghosh Dastidar, one of the first women coaches in West Bengal, readily agreed to hone their skill.

Among the 50 girls about 25 will be selected through a residential coaching camp. They will then be taken to various clubs for further training. The idea to involve girls in football is an initiative of the Jabala Action Research Organisation to empower adolescent girls, including survivors of social violence, through sports. Camps are organised at the block level twice a week. Along with regular training these girls go through ground practise among themselves.

In the interiors of Murshidabad district girls do not have access to television to watch the World Cup final 2010. The representatives of Jabala are trying to arrange for these girls to watch the matches. However, they are not very sure whether the family members will allow these young girls to go and watch football matches late in the night. These girls talk about the World Cup football in their school; girls like Roja get to hear from other boys and girls about the likes of Kaka and Messi and how much money is in the game.

"The attitude of these girls has changed after they took to football. They are now more confident and forthcoming. A community feeling has developed among them," said Sabyasachi Mitra, a community relation officer of Jabala Action Research Organisation. Mitra says that when these girls play football several other girls also want to join them.

Jabala works in Murshidabad district to check and prevent cases of trafficking and early marriages in these areas where there are high incidence of trafficking because of acute poverty and underdevelopment.

According to Baitali Ganguly, one of the chief functionaries of Jabala, football was initiated among the girls to boost their confidence and develop community spirit among them and it has yielded more than the desired results. The representatives of Jabala say that they would be trying out the experiment in other districts as well.

The initiative has bridged the gender divide among the girls who now do not feel the vulnerability that they felt before and the experiment has been successful in giving them the freedom they needed from playing football.

Shiv Sahay Singh : Sun Jul 11 2010, 03:57 hrs