Saturday, March 23, 2019

Santal girls and Football

The article on Santal football girls of Birbhum has led me to share a completely different experience of girls in Purulia.

Santoshi Besra at our workshop
I first came to know about Santal girls playing football during a workshop we had conducted in Purulia in 2018. One of the youngest participants, Santoshi Besra, caught my eye because of her sad, beautiful eyes and the fact that she wore practically the same clothes everyday. She was painfully shy and along with her cousin, who was of the same age - around 18, would always sit at a little distance away from the other women. 

My heart went out to her and with a bit of effort, I managed to befriend her. This is her story:

Santoshi's mother in her home
Santoshi lives with her parents and two younger sisters, Taposhi and Anjana, in the village of Bansraya in Purulia. Her father is a daily wage earner and also accompanies his wife to pick sal leaves from the forests to supplement their income. Santoshi, who used to play football with her school team until she was 13, eventually gave up because practice time ate into her time for household duties. A few years later, she fell ill and had to drop out of school as well - and has since been assigned the task of looking after their home - cleaning, washing, cooking and so on. 

Her younger sister, Taposhi who is now 17, in the meanwhile also got interested in the game and was selected by her school as one of their best players, two years ago. This led to recognition from the local government at the block office in Kashipur which awarded her a monthly stipend of Rs 2400 to enable her to continue training. This monetary incentive did not exist when Santoshi was playing and the sum has provided a much needed boost for the sustenance of the entire family. However, elections are round the corner and so, payments have been put on hold. The family takes this in their stride as well.

In fact, Santoshi proudly tells me that the entire village has always been very proud of them and has encouraged them to play and train, without restriction. I told her about the Birbhum incident and she was quite bemused. 

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