Alakhpura FC: How a village from Haryana is empowering young girls through football
The state of Haryana, for a long period of time, has been notorious for its skewed sex ratio and patriarchal mindset, grappling with serious issues of female foeticide and infanticide. But in January this year, it saw the sex ratio touch the 900-mark for the first time in 20 years, marking a historic turnaround.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ programme in Panipat in January 2015 and a key part of it involved creation of awareness about the issue through rallies, street plays and meetings in rural as well as urban areas.
The successes of female sportspersons from the region, which includes the likes of Olympic medalists Sakshi and Deepa Malik along with wrestlers Babita and Geeta Phogat has helped the cause “tremendously”, according to people associated with the campaign.
The winds of change are blowing in Haryana and it is in this light that the tale of Alakhpura Football Club becomes even more prominent. Alakhpura, a village situated near the boxing hotbed of Bhiwani, is home to a football team that reached the semifinals of the inaugural Indian Women’s League on Saturday, where they fought tooth and nail against a strong Eastern Sporting Union side but fell slightly short.
Founded in 2002, the club has two consecutive Subroto Cup titles to its name and in just a decade-and-a-half of existence, it has provided the national team with a continuous supply of talent. It is run with the support of the entire village and over 200 girls are trained every day at the club, making it an essential component of the day-to-day life of the residents of Alakhpura.
Prakash Singh Jakhar, who is a member of the village’s Panchayat Committee, recounted how the club was started 15 years ago. “There was no ground at the village for girls to play and so we requested the government to help us out, but it was to no avail,” he said. As a result, the villagers got together and decided to dry out a nearby pond by filling it with sand, to create a place for girls to play and train.”
Nearly two hundred people made the trip from Haryana to Delhi to watch their team play in the semifinal and despite the 4-1 loss, the young girls were congratulated and praised for their efforts. The club is financed solely by the donations received from the people of Alakhpura, giving it a feeling of community and belongingness among its residents.
“In our village, we have always been supportive of young girls doing what they want and in our eyes, all children are equal. We have given so many players to the national team over the years and are extremely proud of these girls. We want all of them to succeed, go far in life and make the state and nation proud, like Sakshi (Malik) and Geeta (Phogat) have done,” said Jakhar.
He also acknowledged the role of coach Sonika Bijarnia, who has represented Haryana at the senior nationals in the past and has worked tirelessly to train her young wards. “I am proud of these girls as they played very well throughout the tournament. If we can get more facilities and adequate support from the government, we can become the hub for football in India,” said Bijarnia.
Leading the team was Sanju, who is just 19 years of age and has featured for the senior national team in international competitions. She has been playing football since she was ten and scored the only goal for her side in the semifinal. She acknowledged the support she had received from her fellow residents and expressed her gratitude.
“The people of Alakhpura have always encouraged us to go out, play and do our best. I cannot thank them enough for their support,” she said. Talking about the IWL, she said that it was an important experience for her and her teammates.
“We got to play against ESU, which has so many national-level players. We learnt a lot of important things such as positioning ourselves on the pitch and defending as a unit. We wanted to win but a semi final place is also good,” said the left-footed attacking midfielder.
Her role models are her national team seniors Bala Devi and Oinam Bembem Devi, and it was the latter who was leading the ESU side against Alakhpura FC. When asked about her future goals and how football changed her life, Sanju said, “Football is everything for me and it has helped me get a secure job in the Railways. In the coming years, I want to play more for India and win trophies.
“Also, I want to make my state proud and show people that girls too can carve out a name for themselves and bring joy to their families.”