On the football pitch, feminism flourishes in rural India

On the football pitch, feminism flourishes in rural India

Mumbai: Sumati Kumari had no great agenda in mind when she started playing football aged nine near her home in Lonora in Jharkhand. She just wanted to have fun.  Now 15, she is pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved by girls in a state notorious for human trafficking and child marriage. And with India to host, the 2020 FIFA under-17 Girls World Cup, things are looking bright for the girls from this part of the country. The general belief in the rural areas is that girls should fetch water, wash clothes, work in the fields, and collect firewood among other chores, but for these girls from the small village of Lonora in Karoundajor district in Jharkhand, it is football that sums up all the daily activities.

It is five in the morning, as the girls wake up and are rearing to go. In the next 30 minutes, they are on the field juggling with the football. These girls hail from the poorest state of the country (economically) but talent-wise they top their chart. And to prove they are one of the best women footballers, their recent campaign at the Junior National Championship makes it clear that they are among the best in the business.

These rural girls from Jharkhand are choosing their future through football.Although they finished runners-up in the Junior National championship which concluded in Kolhapur recently, Sumati Kumari raised the bar, to return as the highest ever goalscorer of the championship in the country. “Yes, I have scored 17 goals in nine matches. I am happy that we made it to the final,” says Sumati, an IX standard student from St Patrick’s School in Gumla. The only girls to do so in this version of the championship.

And to top it, six girls from the same state team have been shortlisted for the Indian Camp for the forthcoming FIFA Under-17 World Cup to be held in India later next year. But there’s more to this than meets the eye. They are from poor families, mostly farmers, either they own a small piece of land or work for their living in the landlords’ field.”They are all farmers,” said their coach Dharmendra Singh, but they are proud to be called farmers.  “My parents (mother Saniyaro Devi and father Firu Oraon) are farmers and so were our grand and great-grandparents. We feel linked to that noble occupation and I would love to contribute,” says Sumati.

These girls are a part of the indigenous population of Jharkhand. Most importantly, they are all proud of Dhoni Bhai, the state’s best-known name, who has brought Jharkhand into the global arena.  “Yes, Dhoni Bhai is our mentor. Yes we are aware he plays cricket, and we football, but his message is very clear, play the game in true sportsperson spirit and every goal will be achieved,” shares Sumati.  The youngest in the family for six siblings, and for whom education and sports go hand in hand.”Yes, I will give my best shot and I want to don the Indian colours,” states Sumati as she packs her bag to board the bus to Panjim for the National camp, where she and her team-mates will look to further impress the coaches and seal their spots in the Indian team for the upcoming 2020 FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup to be held in India early next year.


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