What If I Told You A Kickass Football League Exists In Tribal Odisha?

The North-East, West Bengal, Goa, Kerala and Punjab – these are the places that come to mind when one thinks of footballing culture in India. What if I told you that a strong culture of football prevails in northern Odisha, specifically in the tribal regions of the district of Mayurbhanj – would you believe me?

In the tiny village of Kanpur in Mayurbhanj District in Northern Odisha, a relatively unknown sports organisation by the name of Marangburu Siddheswari Sporting Club has been active for the past many years in promoting sports in the village and nearby regions, particularly football. Since 2009, they have been organising an annual grassroots-level football competition called the Mayurbhanj Football League (MFL). Each year, MFL gets together 16 rural-based teams and 250 players, mostly comprising of tribal folk, to compete in this popular competition. Teams come from the districts of Mayurbhanj and Balasore in Northern Odisha, as well as from the district of Paschim Medinipur in West Bengal.

For the past three years, Pro Sport Development (PSD) has been supporting the MFL, which was conceptualised by Tempa Hansdah, a native of Kanpur village. He is the chief organiser of MFL and an employee of PSD. This year was the first time I got a chance to visit the village of Kanpur and see first-hand the action at MFL 2017, the ninth edition of the tournament.

Two things struck me the most during my experience at MFL 2017. First, the hordes of people who had gathered to watch the matches. I have never seen so many people attending any club or grassroots sporting competition, even in a large city like Delhi! And these spectators were not just men but included women and plenty of children – both girls and boys. It was truly a family affair. There were many local vendors who had set up shop at one end of the ground, selling food, toys and an assortment of other items, almost resembling a local fair. This allowed for the MFL to be more than just a collection of football matches – it was a local sporting event, made enjoyable for all types of spectators. Close to 9,000 people attended the competition over the two days!

Second, I noted that while the infrastructure being utilised for the tournament was quite rudimentary – the ground was slightly uneven and pockmarked with patches of grass, and the goalposts had been improvised out of local tree trunks – the tournament was taken seriously by all participants, who played and conducted themselves very professionally. All teams had matching jerseys, referees were officiating the matches and the competition was fierce, but played in the right spirit. Moreover, there was running commentary on a large sound system being provided for the benefit of the spectators, not in the state language of Oriya, but rather in the local dialect of Santhali, so that the environment was inclusive for all in the audience.

I was in awe of this event and all that it showcased – it was a fine display of sporting culture at the grassroots level. The capability exhibited by the participants, even while competing on substandard facilities and infrastructure, is a testament to their dedication. And from the enthusiasm displayed by the crowded audience, it was obvious that there was a keen interest in football within these communities. Moreover, the organisers of the tournament had done a fabulous job, not just organising this edition of the tournament, but sustaining it over the past nine years. Tempa told me that there are many other tournaments like MFL that are organised in the region, particularly in the tribal belt, though on a smaller scale. After witnessing the latent talent in the region and the passion and interest in football from players, organisers, and spectators, I was not surprised to hear that.

MFL 2017 was won by Marangburu Football Team from Musamari village, though in the bigger picture, it did not really matter. As Chief Guest of the prize distribution ceremony, I handed over the winners’ trophy and gave a short speech, but I learnt so much more from all the players and supporters than any ‘gyaan’ I could have shared with them. The experience bolstered my firm belief in the simmering potential of sport in rural and tribal India, and the pressing need for investing in and developing the same. Hosting football leagues and competitions like the ISL, I-League and U-17 FIFA World Cup are great, and much required for India’s footballing development. But who is nurturing the footballing potential in villages like Kanpur in Northern Odisha?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

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Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

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With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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Read more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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