There was a sense of festivity in the air at the media stand of the Ambedkar Stadium around early evening yesterday as preparations were going on for the Under-17 Girls final. It was only symbolic that the girls’ final was being played on the culminating day of Durga Puja and the manifestation of the symbol came in the form of the team from Haryana, which scripted an incredible story of courage, determination and triumph by beating the Nagaland team 1-0 to win the Subroto Cup 2016 Junior Girls title.
The match was quite thrilling with a lot of close moments and though Haryana had to wait till evening to lift the trophy, they had won another battle much before the final began. Haryana, to say the least, is a state where women, for several years, have stood shoulder to shoulder with men but do not enjoy the same status socially. Sport, as it turns out, is becoming a source of liberation and upheaval, which is much needed.
Sonika, the coach of the Haryana team, told Sportskeeda about the backgrounds of the girls playing in the team. “Most of these kids come from poor backgrounds. In fact, some of them do not even get to eat three meals in a day. It is not their parents’ fault as the income is really less and there is not enough to afford. The school in Alakhpura has been really supportive and though it was tough to convince the families, we managed to do it,” she said.
The tale of these girls from Haryana is quite extraordinary, given the fact that even eating fruits is a luxury for them. “Kabhi agar 15-20 din mein ek do baar fruits kha liye toh bahut badi baat ho jaati hai. Itni kam salary mein kahan se layenge fruits ji (Even if they manage to eat fruits once in a fortnight, it is a big thing. With such less income, how can we even expect them to feed fruits to their children),” she adds.
Nisha, who later went on to win the Player of the Tournament, has a different perspective about things altogether. Her father, present at the venue, was beaming with pride about the fact that his daughter is the cynosure of all eyes. The sense of amazement that hits you while seeing a teenage girl from a village in Haryana taking centrestage while her father plays second fiddle is quite extraordinary.
She comes from a big family and lives with her parents, grandparents and siblings. Her father is a farmer and due to limited income, she does not get the best of facilities and Nisha is aware about it. “Teams from a lot of states are much stronger than us due to their diet. They eat non-vegetarian food and get good equipment as well. We just want to have a good ground and get the chance to play,” Nisha said.
Before the final, we asked her about Haryana's chances of winning the final, to which Nisha said, “100 per cent jeetenge ji (We will win for sure, a 100 percent).” The confidence exuded by these girls was infectious and one went so far as to imagine how teams from schools in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Chennai and Hyderabad could not produce a team of 11 kids who can beat this bunch.
Maybe for those kids, schools and their parents, participation in Subroto Cup is not that coveted because they have to go for Model United Nations, debates, art competitions and aim at cracking the IIT-JEE entrance exam. Not to take anything away from those things because probably there is more security in becoming an engineer or doctor rather than a footballer but the spirit shown by the Haryana girls is stunning.
The trophy distribution ceremony was like an after party and the girls were thrilled to wear blazers and so was the supporting staff. Winning a laptop meant the world for Nisha and the first thing she did after receiving it was thank her team for the support. What becomes of Nisha in the coming years remains to be seen but the fact that they have a platform like Subroto Cup to show how battling odds, irrespective of their level of gravity, and defeating them is pretty much a reality is a great sign.