The monsoon rains in Kolkata might clog up its streets, but not the infectious energy of the bunch of rising football enthusiasts in Sonagachi. The football grounds might be damp, but a gaggle of girls have turned the bylanes of the city’s red light area into their playground. They dribble the football, practice a few tricks they have learnt and train kicks with a natural ease, because, well, why should boys have all the fun?
The Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), which has been helping sex workers and their children in the area and elsewhere in the state, is all set to launch their first all-girls football team under their franchise ‘Amra Padatik’. Starting in August, daughters of sex workers from the area will get a chance to flaunt their soccer skills, shatter stereotypes and chase their dream to score goals like Ronaldo and Messi.
Even though Argentina crashed out of the world cup pretty soon, the blue-white striped-flags still continue to be raised high around the area and so does their love for the team’s star skipper. “I love Messi, someday I hope to score a goal just like him. He’s great,” says an inspired Sunita Das, 14. And even before she can finish her sentence, Swapna Shaikh cuts in to say, “But not like Ronaldo.” The ardent Portugal fan, who has been playing football along with other boys of Durbar’s team, is excited to get an all-girls team. “We will show them [boys], we are no less. Although they are very supportive and encouraging, they sometimes challenge us saying let’s see what you can do,” adds the 14-year-old.
As of now, there are about eight to nine girls all set to start coaching. The DMSC members hope that as the practice starts in full swing, more girls will join in. “We always wanted an exclusive team for girls as we primarily work for the benefit of women, and this project has been in the pipeline for many years,” says Bharati Dey, a mentor of DMSC. “Some of them play with boys, but having their own team will motivate them more,” adds Dey.
“Many workers want their daughters to play, but are anxious what would others say about their girls wearing small pants,” Dey adds, saying stigma and prejudice never fail to haunt these children and their mothers. “But we try our best to make them understand that there is no difference between boys and girls when it comes to sports and it’s just a jersey,” stresses Dey. “Don’t children of rich people wear hot pants? Then why shame when our children wear it, and they will be wearing half-pants.”
Alia Gaur, 18, a school drop-out who will start coaching next month with the rest, is quite happy with the new opportunity. “Many of my friends here are excited that we will get this chance to play football and learn all the tricks. I want to learn so many things.” The recently concluded football world cup has only rekindled the fire in these enthusiasts. From penalty shootouts to yellow cards, their conversations are laden with many information and questions — hoping their coach will have all the answers.
Dr Pratim Roy, a former team doctor with Mohan Bagan Sporting Club, has come forward to guide the students owing to his long association with the NGO. “Some of these girls have seen the boys go abroad because of football and being lauded for their talent and we have seen them eager to achieve the same,” says Roy. A few members from the boys’ team of Amra Padatik have already played in Poland, Denmark and Manchester and now the girls are too hoping to shine bright.
“Many are interested but may be are shy now. Once the practice starts regularly, hopefully we will find more participants,” he adds. As of now, DMSC has planned to hold coaching once a week and if they find regular players, they plan to hold classes thrice a week in the field located in Darji Para in the neighbourhood.
As of now, they have no sponsors or additional money stipulated for the girls’ team, but along with active participation and spread of word, the organisation hopes to find sponsors to facilitate better training.