Streaming into the city like rays of sunshine, players from underprivileged areas from all over India are currently participating in the Slum Soccer initiative, a national football championship for men and women who live in slums or on the streets. On Saturday, this paper highlighted the story of a young woman player, the Vidarbha team’s goalie. It is one of determination and will power triumphing over adversity like intense poverty, living with an alcoholic, beatings by parents who wanted her to adhere to social mores and stereotypes that say girls do not play football. The talented and fiery girl broke through all those shackles to play.
While hers is one story, sadly it isn’t the only one. Even now, all over India – in smaller towns, especially – women are not encouraged to go out and play. Talent is not allowed to bloom and girls are told they cannot dare to dream.
Of all the ways to control women, the first is physical. Beat the girls into submission, lock them up so that you block their access to playgrounds and stadiums. Put so much pressure on them that they finally buckle and their desire to play is simply bottled up, never allowed to find expression.
Shockingly, this happens in urban environments too, though to a lesser degree. In fact, there are women in cities who are not ‘allowed’ to access gyms. If they do go, they have to wear a certain kind of clothing. In other cases, they can access gyms if there is a separate time slot for women. All ways to shut down sporting ambition, belittle aspirations and put so many hurdles that girls simply wilt under that kind of pressure.
Let our Olympic winners and movies like Dangal show that nothing should come between young women and sporting ambition. Stoke the fire so it turns into a blaze, don’t stamp it into ashes.