The local administration in West Bengal’s Malda district took the decision to cancel a women’s football match last week following “orders from the top”, the Block Development Officer (BDO) has said. The orders came after some Muslims of the area objected to the women playing, the BDO said.
“When I came to know about the local opposition, I referred the matter to the SP and the DM, and the local police station. The order came from the top that the match should be cancelled, and I acted accordingly in the interest of peace and tranquillity and public order,” Biplab Roy, BDO of Harishchandrapur, Malda, said.
The cancellation of the seven-a-side exhibition match, which was to have featured members of the Indian national women’s football team and Arjuna awardees, has sent shock waves across the district, which has a sizeable Muslim population, and triggered outrage elsewhere.
The match, scheduled for March 14, was cancelled after maulvis of Chandipur village in Harishchandrapur Block-I issued a fatwa against it.
Reza Razi, president of the Progressive Youth Club of Harishchandrapur, one of the chief organisers, said the match, which was to have been played on the field of the local girls’ higher secondary school, was intended to encourage women to take an interest in football.
“At the last moment on Friday, when some of the players had already arrived in Malda, some local muslim maulvis and villagers got together and protested that the exhibition football match could not be organized as it would have adverse impact on the local girls and womenfolk,” Reza said.
“Some of them raised the issue of the clothes that the women players would be wearing, and some said that this sort of sport was against the Shariat,” Reza said.
Reza said he and other local sports enthusiasts had tried to reason with the maulvis in vain.
“We tried to convince the maulvis and all those who had raised objections. I am Muslim myself, and offer namaaz every day. What was wrong in having a women’s football match in the village?” Reza asked.
He said he had asked the local administration for help in holding the match, but the administration had instead cancelled it citing law and order problems.
“The administration succumbed to the pressure of the maulvis and the fatwa. We had no option,” Reza said. “We are a member of the Malda District Sports Association, and we are sending a complaint to the body,” he added.
The friendly was to be played between a Kolkata side and a North Bengal side. India-level players were supposed to play alongside upcoming young women footballers. Shanti Aich Mullick, women’s World Cupper and 1983 Arjuna Awardee, said, “I was supposed to participate in the event.”
Mullick said the women players would have played the game for free. “They did not ask for money. They agreed to play only to promote football. I can’t imagine such a thing happened in the 21st century,” she said.
Mullick said she and several others had called off the visit to Harishchandrapur as soon as they realised that the local administration was against allowing the match. “Who can take the risk of fielding women footballers in the face of such threats?” she said.
Mullick pointed out that among her wards at the coaching classes she holds for budding women footballers at the Rabindra Sarovar stadium in Kolkata were many very enthusiastic Muslim girls.
Anamika Sen, a former FIFA grade referee who is now an AIFF match commissioner and instructor, was to go to conduct the match.
“I agreed after I came to know that renowned national level women players like Sujata Kar, Rezina Khatun, Nausaba Alam and Minati Das were participating. I do not know in what kind of a world we are living. Such a thing might have happened a hundred years ago, but it is unbelievable that the administration gave in to such fundamentalist elements in this day and age.
Some local villagers indicated that the balance tilted towards the maulvis after Trinamool Congress leaders from the area threw their weight behind them. Reza Razi said he found it difficult to accept such a “defeat”.