About 140 km from Patna, Sitamarhi is a semi-urban town with most of its population living in a rural setup. The town said to be Sita’s birthplace, has an abysmal sex ratio of 899:1000. With a low sex ratio like this, it isn’t all that surprising that girls don’t get as many opportunities as boys and that families still believe in the stereotypical gender roles for their daughters.
I joined the UN volunteer program in December 2015 to fight just this kind of inequality and discrimination in the town.
I soon noticed that there were many sports programmes organised only for boys.This is why I chose sports as one of my initiatives to fight the prevalent gender inequality around me.
Kabaddi is a famous sport in rural areas, and I thought, why not start with this? All one needs is a small ground and some players. The rules are simple, and the game can be played at any time.
When almost all of them thought that a woman’s ultimate goal is to get married and serve the family, convincing them to let the girls leave their homes to play a sport was obviously not going to be easy. It was hard to convince the girls themselves since they were so tied down with restrictions and responsibilities. Girls would not come for practice regularly because of restrictions from parents or overburdening household responsibilities. Some of them were also married off.
However, slowly, we did manage to convince the families and encourage the girls and build a team.
In March 2016, I met Menaka, a national level Kabaddi player who was working as a volunteer with the Nehru Yuva Kendra.
Menaka too, had to fight to reach the level she’s at. Her mother and her coach had to convince her father to let her play. Now, when he sees her doing so well, he at least tries to understand her passion for the sport.
Menaka’s success story shows how girls can achieve all that they want once they are able to break away from society’s chains.With her help, we have trained 50 girls between the ages of 15-29 and have organised block level Kabaddi events.
I’ve seen a lot of growth in confidence in the girls from when they first started out. In February, I saw how hard they trained before playing in the block level tournament, and their excitement to play a district level match after that. While they didn’t win, they performed exceptionally well and showed even more zeal to become better. To help them continue training, we’ve provided them with sports kits too.
To make sure that the changes we have brought in today don’t end with us, the next generation must be involved in the process. Through over 250 active youth clubs in the area and active social media participation, we have been able to engage with more and more young people. The members of the youth clubs have been instrumental while organising and promoting district level tournaments.
The club members are also included in our decision-making process and day-to-day activities so that one day, they can organise and execute these activities themselves, even start their own initiatives!
Looking back, working with the UN as a volunteer these past two years has been a very satisfying experience for me. Initially, I was a little hesitant because of the image that is associated with a government-run initiative, that there would be very little on groundwork happening. However, watching the girls come out of their shells and become more independent, has been one of the happiest feelings. It makes me feel that what I’m doing is working out – slowly, but surely.
As told to Arunima Gururani