A group of girls who fight poverty and discrimination every day set aside their inhibitions and their family’s reservations to participate in a football tournament held in the city recently.
The tournament, Kolkata Naples Friendship Cup, last week was organised by Freed (The Force for Rural Empowerment and Economic Development), an NGO; in association with the consulate general of Italy, Kolkata; the municipality in Naples; and an NGO from the Italian city.
Most of the girls who participated are from underprivileged or marginalised homes, some from remote villages, who have to face taunts for “daring” to play football. Some of the girls live in the city but their struggle and fear of stigmatisation is no less.
The group of 15-17-year-olds, which includes daughters of sex workers, changes from shorts to churidar kurtas when they get off the field to go back home to a life of rigour and household chores after scoring goals on the playground.
The conditions on the playground are tough but most of these girls have to rough it out at home, too, said their coaches and those who work for their upliftment.
One of them, a 17-year-old girl, cooks for her family of seven before she goes out for football practice. During the three-day football tournament, her friend went to her home to cook so she could play.
Another, a 16-year-old in the city, would hide her sports shoes so her extended family and neighbours would not find out she plays football.
A 17-year-old faced taunts for wearing shorts and was asked who would marry her if she suffered an injury.
“Sports is a tool of empowerment. We know the kind of background these girls are from. The idea is to help them in whatever way possible in the fight they are putting up every day,” said Somnath Pyne, secretary, Freed.
Most of the girls who participated are from underprivileged or marginalised homes, some from remote villages, who have to face taunts for 'daring' to play football.
The tournament had six teams, two of which were from the districts. The girls from Purba Bardhaman emerged champions.
“We had a team from Kolkata police participating, too. The idea of inviting them was to inspire the girls and help them realise that if they play well, they can achieve a lot,” said Pyne.
Sonali Soren, from Badagachhi village in Kalna, Purba Bardhaman, went home with the best player trophy. Her father is a landless farmer.
Sahina Javed, founder of Roshni Youth Group in the city, said getting a playground to coach girls was difficult.
“We would wait for the boys to vacate the field. It is not that every girl will become a star player but I want there to be equality. She should not be stopped because she is a girl,” said Javed.
Discrimination does not happen on the field but off it, said Sanjit Sen, secretary of Durbar Sports Academy that gives football coaching to daughters of sex workers and girls from marginalised families.
“We are happy to consider that this initiative can be the beginning of a new stage of common friendly initiatives between our two cities which may coronate in a near future with the possible sharing of visits in the two twinned cities,” said a letter from the NGO in Naples.