All-women's playground to open in Mumbai soon
Meet the feisty collective behind India's first all-women's playground that will open in Mumbra next month
A day before the tournament, the engineer came to the ground and said, 'Let's clear this ground so that they can have a kick-about.' I told him that football is not just about kicking a ball, it is about playing a sport. Then the contractor started laughing. His job is not to laugh at us. And what was he trying to get at by laughing? That we can't achieve anything?'" Salma Ansari tells us, about the jibes they encountered before organising the most important event of Parcham, an NGO she co-founded, last Sunday. Ansari's organisation is a Mumbra-based women's collective that works extensively with marginalised communities.
The ground the engineer was referring to is an empty plot adjacent to Mumbra's Maulana Azad Stadium. It is a space that Parcham fought for, to build a safe space for women where they can exercise their right to play. When we arrive at Mumbra's MM Valley, where the ground is located, four members of the NGO are ready to get the ball rolling in their sports shoes and black jerseys. Workers and tractors are busy clearing out the rubble from the space and levelling the ground with laal mitti. "People asked us, 'Yeh kaisa ground hai? Stadium ki tarah nahi hai.' But we knew why it is important for us to play here and once we did, not a single person cared about the state it was in," Muskaan Sayed, 20, tells us.
A day after receiving the petty comments, Ansari and her team organised and inaugurated the first women's-only Fatema Bi Savitri Bai Football Tournament in the playground meant solely for women. It was in 2012 that Parcham first collaborated with the Maharashtra Mahila Parishad, who helped them practise football in a small ground near Shankar Mandir. "But after some time, we noticed that boys would come there, play cricket, throw balls around and just not move. Then we started a campaign to get a separate ground and gathered 900 signatures from women all over Mumbra. We then took it to our MLA, Jitendra Awhad. The processing took about a year before everything was finalised on paper, and we finally got this five-acre space which is listed as a recreational ground in the Development Plan. We applied for a special reservation for girls and women through the Thane Municipal Corporation," Ansari says.
Work is scheduled to be completed by May 1, when the ground's management will be handed over to the NGO. "It is the first ground in India that will be only for women. We want to provide facilities for football and basketball. We will also make arrangements for security, washrooms, changing rooms and a gymnasium," Awhad of NCP shares, though when we ask him about the funds that have been allocated for this project, the MLA doesn't comment.
Parcham has been instrumental in introducing football to Mumbra. There was no trace of the game before 2012. With their own academy comprising 20 members, the NGO has been in talks with the Western India Football Association for training.
The ground, Awhad has said, will be called Fatima Savitri Stadium. But the women have suggested naming it Fatima Bi Savitri Bai Stadium. "That's because Fatima and Savitri can be anyone's name. When you add the 'Bi' and 'Bai', only then do you recall history — which also tells you that these two [eminent educators] were friends. We want to celebrate their friendship," Ansari says, with Sayed adding, "We also want the religious divide to end. This name itself is impactful. If in the past, they could be friends, then why is there so much hatred now? We don't want to just play football; we want to overcome all of this one in one shot."
Although the collective will primarily focus on football, the space is open to women and girls to play and hang out in. Ansari adds, "That being said, general spaces that are open to both men and women should not be ignored, and we will practise there, too. This ground, though, is for those whose parents tell their daughters, 'Tu logon ke saamne jaa kar khelegi? Mat jaa'."
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