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Villagers Thought Football Was A Man’s Game. Sapna Proved Them Wrong.

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Editor’s Note: This article is a part of #YoungWarrior, a pan-India movement led by the young people of India and an initiative by Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MoYAS), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), YuWaah, UNICEF India and partners across the Public & Private sectors, UN bodies and CSOs. Partaking in this movement, young people have taken centre-stage during the COVID-19 pandemic to lead the country from the front, through positive tools such civic action, mental health, skilling and community welfare. Gearing towards the upcoming International Youth Day on 12th August, 2021, join us in recognizing and celebrating the inspiring stories of these young warriors and share your story on how you’ve been a shining young warrior in these times too!

“My parents wanted to marry me off. I’m barely 17. Somehow I convinced them that I don’t want to get married.”

Sapna Gurjar is one of the many girls from Hansiawas, a small, unknown village in Churu district of Ajmer, Rajasthan, where it seems as if time has stood still.

The mindset of our elders is still under the clutches of hegemonic conservatism. Women are expected to behave and maintain a particular place in the society, to keep their heads bowed and obey,” Sapna says.

But Sapna is one of those girls who’ve fought and worked hard to carve out their own space in this largely patriarchal society. Sapna, along with other girls from her village, has been associated with an NGO – Mahila Jan Adhikar Samiti – since 6th grade.

Sapna Gurjar.

The NGO regularly holds discussions on the issues of child marriage and child abuse. But it has helped empower the girls of Hansiawas village in a different manner.

“Women and girls found it hard to leave their households in this neighbourhood. To change that, we formed a football team of our own. The reason was that football was seen as primarily a men’s game, and the villagers did not think that we girls had it in us to play. This is why we wanted to play football.”

Forming a team on paper is one thing, and to play is another, and in the girls’ case, even obtaining permission to play was a hard-fought battle. Sapna recalls how villagers were averse to letting girls of the village play sports, especially not in shorts. “We approached the NGO and asked them to help us convince our parents,” she says.

The intervention worked, and the team was allowed to play. She adds, “Playing while wearing shorts felt nothing less than liberation,” Sapna tells, unknowingly highlighting the acute suppression of women still prevalent in remote corners of the country.

Not only did the girls’ team play, they, along with the boys of the village, but also helped collect donations for the development of a football ground in their village. “Initially we faced some resistance from the boys, but they came around to join hands with us.”

The girls from Hansiawas village earned a name for themselves in their school.

Elaborating, Sapna says, “Our teachers and peers called us “Sportswomen”, and marvelled at how well we developed physically.”

Along with being the captain of the team, Sapna passed her 12th-grade exams at the top of her class. Being lettered and relatively more empowered, she was able to show her parents how domestic duties were to be distributed equally among her and her brother.

Sapna Gurjar is one of the three people selected from Rajasthan to be a part of UNICEF’s National Young People Action Team which provides COVID aid. She is associated with YuWaah and UNICEF’s FunDoo program, and her work involves collecting feedback that informs steps for improvement in the program.

Sapna is a football player of high calibre, and she also got the opportunity to participate in a tournament organized by tech company HCL held in Noida. In spite of her achievements, however, her parents are repeatedly “warned” that Sapna would be corrupted if things go on like this. “Villagers cite their ‘concerns’ about us girls playing and going out of the village to the NGO office.”

But she derives her strength from her mother who, like her, did not want to be married at a young age. “She tells me to study hard and make a life for myself that she could not have,” she explains.

Currently, Sapna is preparing for competitive exams and aspires to be an IAS officer. In a year when India slipped 28 places in the Gender Parity Index, ranking a dismal 140 out of 156 countries, stories like that of Sapna’s are the rare, but invigorating rays of hope.

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