Reena Pancha, Sweeti Saini live beautiful dream against all odds

The Indian teams for the Homeless World Cup to be played in The Netherlands (Amsterdam, Sept 12-14) stand in silence as they take in what’s happening in front of them.

They are on the rooftop of an Andheri mall, which has been converted into a five-a-side football turf and a basketball court, which also doubles up as a box-cricket pitch. It is well past 10pm, but on both courts, the action continues unabated.

The India women’s team for the Homeless World Cup practice at an Andheri mall on Thursday. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

This is the first time any of the 16 underprivileged footballers, all from rural backgrounds, are watching anything like this. Among the bunch are Reena Panchal and Sweeti Saini, two girls from Sonipat, Haryana.

While the image of people playing football and cricket late at night on a rooftop might come as a culture shock to their teammates, for Reena and Sweeti, it borders on the unbelievable. After all, there was a time when both were barred from playing football even in broad daylight, because in their patriarchal Haryana village, a girl playing anything, that too in a pair of shorts, was unthinkable.

“In my village, girls are not allowed to leave home without someone accompanying them. And playing with shorts is not permitted. So, I started playing football for my school without telling my parents. But once, at a tournament, my parents found out. My coach tried to convince them, but my father was worried about the shame our family would face if anything untoward happened to me. After a lot of convincing, he agreed,” recalled 21-year-old defender Reena, captain of the women’s team.

Her partner in defence, Sweeti faced even stiffer resistance. She was locked in her house when her parents found out that she was playing football behind their backs.

“My parents have agreed to let me play football only on the condition that someone will accompany me everywhere,” said 20-year-old Sweeti adding that this was the first time she had stayed outside her house this late in the night.
While the team, which traveled to Amsterdam yesterday, is bound to face serious competition, many of the girls have already faced, and overcome, stiffer opposition just to get here.

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