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Home Football This NGO in Rajasthan is using football to fight against child marriage

This NGO in Rajasthan is using football to fight against child marriage

There are certain things in life that, growing up, we consider as a given. Going out with friends or playing football/cricket on weekends or after school, these are probably two of our generation’s most important ‘memory banks’ as Indian kids-turned adults. However, in a remote village in Rajasthan, the latter is a luxury for a group of girls who have to prove themselves worthy of it every day out of societal pressure.

Around 20km from the beautiful city of Ajmer is Hasiyawas village. It is here and its neighbouring Chachiyawas where Mahila Jan Adhikar Samilty (MJAS), a local NGO, started working with young girls through football, in an effort to tackle child marriage which is rampant in the area. According to UNICEF, Rajasthan is home to nearly 15 million child brides with most of them coming from the state’s smaller villages. Girls in this part of the country are married off as early as 14 or 15, after which they stay with their parents till they turn marriageable age which is 18 for girls. Indira Pancholi of MJAS and many others like her are now trying to flip the rules.

“Choosing football was a conscious decision. In 2016, working against child marriage. We thought football is a domain that has always been considered to be a man’s sport. In Rajasthan, we had softball and kho kho while some girls played basketball but never football. We spoke to the education department as well as local bodies and the response we had was that girls would not look good playing football in the open. In Rajasthan girls usually dress very conservatively even before marriage. So that was also a big issue. But we decided to go forward with it,” she elaborated.

The initiative paid off and the girls have now participated in tournaments in a number of places like Noida, Delhi, and Lucknow. “It was a slow start at first. We started with 380 in the first camp. Many are not regulars because of familial pressure. We were left with 158 girls for whom we do two camps a year at Mayo College in Ajmer. That has gone up thereafter and today we have worked with more than 400 girls in the region,” Indira says proudly.

In 2019, a few of the girls from here won the U-19 HCL Foundation’s Sports for Change as well as the U-19 Achievers’ Trophy in Lucknow. A few of them were also called up for trials ahead of the U-17 Women’s World Cup which was supposed to take place in India in 2020 but had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Today some of these youngsters dream of playing in a big city and fending for themselves and are confident enough to express that without fear.

“We realized that for these girls to be heard, they needed to speak up themselves. So we tried to instill other traits in them through competitive sport like confidence, empathy and the ability to determine right from wrong. They also have Leadership Training as a part of their curriculum at the camps which we feel has helped them understand topics like safety and gender inequality,” explains Indira.

At the core of this hardship is the basic right of being able to do something of your own choice. On the occasion of the National Girl Child day, it is important to understand the weight that every Indian carries in terms of this inequality that all of us, in some small way or the other, have propagated in our lives.

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