All-Dalit, all-women football club of Bihar shatters stereotypes

Lack of adequate diet, conservative families no deterrent for these Muslim and Dalit girls with stars in their eyes

Patna: At a time when the age-old caste system is manifesting itself in its most horrific form, these girls are challenging the gender and social stereotypes in their own way. With indisputable devotion, out-of-the-ordinary skills and stars in their eyes, the all-Dalit, all-women football club in Patna has more than a point to prove.

Half-pants are the biggest challenge

Each of the 40 members of the team of the Ambedkar Mahila Football Club has a different story to narrate. While Naaz, Musharrat and Neha are blessed with supportive parents, some share that they have to cook for the family before hitting the field for practice at 8 am every morning. Persuading their parents to allow them to wear half-pants to practice sessions is a daily struggle for many.

With stories of hardships, conviction and contradictions, these girls, aged 12-22 years, are preparing themselves tirelessly for the Patna Football League, due at the year-end, under the watchful eyes of their coach Akbar Ansari.

“My girls are strong and determined. I have coached male players as well. I see no difference in coaching the girls. I make sure that they get the same physical training as the males,” says Ansari, adding that, “I am confident that at least six-seven of them will make it to the district team.”

Multiple siblings, single earning member

However, what concerns him is the lack of adequate diet for these girls in their homes. They come from households where even two square meals a day is a luxury. With multiple siblings and single earning members, most of the girls are not able to afford the kind of diet required.

These little girls from ten backward villages in the Patna district are already stars for their ‘Football Wali Didi’. Pushpa, a mentor, a guide and a friend for these 40 girls proudly claims that they are her identity.

‘Hamari pechaan’

‘Hamari pechaan’“Hamari pehchaan in bachhiyon se hai,” says Pushpa. A lady of grit, passion and sincerity, Pushpa never misses a single practice session. “We are always connected to these kids. If I don’t come here, my day somehow appears incomplete,” she adds.

Pushpa, a social worker who dodged all possible hardships to make it to where she is, shares how difficult it is to break the gender and social norms. “Nobody cares how capable these girls are. What bothers them is the girls wearing half-pants for practice sessions and playing a sport that’s supposedly meant for men. We are often accused of brainwashing them.”

So while the entire world begins the countdown for the next FIFA season, here is a team of Dalit and Muslim girls trying to hit the perfect goal. And with each goal, hit the gender and social stereotypes as well.

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Belal Khan

Belal Khan is an alumni of Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC). He has earlier worked with Tehelka, ANI and DNA.