Rural girls in hilly areas have a right to play and shine

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Rural girls in hilly areas have a right to play and shine

Saturday, 16 September 2023 | Meena Lingdiya

Rural girls in hilly areas have a right to play and shine

Young women in Uttarakhand’s rural areas must be provided with facilities for sports so they can excel in games of choice and break the glass ceiling

In a recent viral sensation, a captivating two-minute video featuring the French men's football team took the internet by storm. The clip showcased the players in action, exuding unmatched passion and boundless energy on the field. But here's the twist that left viewers astonished: halfway through, it was unveiled that the spirited athletes on display weren't the men's team but rather the immensely talented women's football squad. What made this revelation all the more intriguing was that the entire montage was, in fact, a meticulously crafted deepfake. This creative advertisement served as a powerful reminder that in the world of sports, gender should never be a limiting factor.

In India, however, sport is largely associated with men and masculinity as women struggle hard to create a space for themselves in the field. A report published by BBC in 2020 revealed that less than 30% of Indian women played any sports. It also revealed that 37% of respondents said female athletes are not feminine enough, and 38% said sports featuring women are not as entertaining as sports featuring men. These gender biases in the realm of sports become particularly pronounced in rural areas, where women must confront deeply ingrained patriarchal norms and challenges to secure the basic freedom of venturing beyond their homes, let alone pursuing sports.

In the remote villages of Garur block of Bageshwar district in Uttarakhand, girls are still denied the opportunity to play. Even in schools, they are discouraged from participating in sports. Despite their interest in sports, girls from Ganigaon village, like Kavita, a 12th-grade student, feel restricted. Kavita says, "It is essential for girls to play. When I was in 10th grade, I had a strong desire to play, but my family didn't allow me to go out. They said, 'What's the point of playing? Focus on your studies.' But I believe that sports should now be considered a subject within education. Schools and colleges are starting to teach sports as a subject, where girls can build their future. However, in our village, girls are still discouraged from playing."

Another 18-year-old girl from the same village, Hema Rawal, says that girls in her village are not encouraged to play. Even if a girl wants to excel in sports and is good at it, she is not allowed to play. In such cases, family members argue that after marriage, there will be no time for sports, and household chores will take precedence. This is why our talents, identity, and aspirations are suppressed because we are not given opportunities. Geeta Devi, a 25-year-old girl from Lamchula, says, "It is true that just as playing is essential for boys, it is equally important for girls. The freedom that boys have should also be given to girls. They have the right to live life on their own terms. If a girl wants to make her future in sports, she should have that right. In our village, we need to raise our voices for girls to play because people think, 'What will girls achieve by playing? Ultimately, they will have to prioritize marriage and the household chores.'"

Rajni Devi, at the age of 45, fondly reminisces about her childhood when she and her friends used to engage in spirited play. Whenever they would play games like "gulli-danda", onlookers made fun of them. This is a game for boys, they would taunt. This made Rajni question why such boundaries existed. They couldn't even play with the toys we liked. To her, it seemed like an unnecessary restriction for girls like her, who hailed from a humble rural background. Back then, they had little exposure to the wide world of sports, where girls could carve their destinies just as boys did. Today, as girls continue to make strides in various fields, there remains a persistent gender bias in the realm of sports. At times, it's puzzling how society fails to recognize that playing sports is equally crucial for girls. They, too, have the right to shape their lives according to their passions.

Social worker Neelam Grandy from the nearby Charson village emphasizes that playing is just as essential for staying healthy as eating and education. “For girls, sports are just as essential as they are for boys. It is the prevailing gender biases that complicate girls' access to sports.” To address this issue, we must endeavour to transform mindsets while concurrently establishing an environment that provides girls with facilities to play.

(The writer is a student from Ganigaon village in Bageshwar, Uttarakhand. The views expressed are personal. Charkha Features)

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