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Subroto Cup brings freedom to girls from Mangaali

Another tale of football and the endearing light it spreads in the society.

We live in a society that oozes patriarchal ethos in an embarrassingly shameless fashion. The severity of deprivation that women face in the subcontinent is among the highest around the globe.

India, being one of the prominent countries in the subcontinent, is no exception either. While the urban areas have more equality, there are some rural zones where women aren’t allowed to enjoy the birthright that every human possesses: freedom.

Sports is one area where the disparity widens even more. Let’s take the Indian football teams for example. Did you know that the Indian women’s national team is ranked 106 spots above the men’s team (57 vs 163)? Yet, how many players can you name from the women’s team?

It is not only the international scene where they are not treated fairly, the problem lies deeper in grassroots football as well. Very few academies open their doors to girls while there is not a single girls-only football academy in the country.

The plight of being born of the ‘weaker’ sex gets even grave when a girl wants to make a career in, or even play sports. However, girls from Mangaali, a small village in Haryana, proved that they can not only match, but even achieve more than the boys. Mangaali was one of those bucolic areas where women/girls were confined within the walls of their homes. Most girls were only brought up by their parents for the sole purpose of doing household work—first at home and then for the in-laws.

To even think about a girl playing sports was a ridiculous thought in itself. But, the girls found a new lease of life through the Subroto Cup. In their inaugural appearance in this indigenous tournament in 2014, the team from Haryana went on to lift the trophy and be named the best team in the country! Their performances resulted in a stark change in the scenery of the village. From the times when parents used to prevent their girls from even practising, they now say, “The girls have made us proud and given the family and the village an identity. Something that the boys couldn’t do.”

If one goes to Mangaali now, they won’t witness girls doing household chores alone as most of them are seen practicing with the football. It is a beautiful scenery—girls in coloured uniforms trying to weave magic with the ball instead of a loom with thread.

The transition wasn’t so easy. After all, it takes more than just words to persuade people to change their mentalities. As you can see the coach saying in the video, when they began training, they basically had nothing. Be it parents’ support or a proper ground to play in, they were bereft of any such support.

From churning out a proper playing field from a patch on uneven land to convincing their parents to let them play, the girls did it all by themselves. The parents’ objection was such that they never even went to see their children play in the state tournament, which the team won to qualify for the nationals.

The team went into the national tournament with only the expectation of learning something and making their family proud, who by now had made a complete U-turn and hired buses to travel to Delhi to show their support. With their parents watching, they not only managed to learn, but created history by returning home with the glorious cup.

A beautiful story, indeed, that wouldn't have seen the light of the day if not for the Subroto Cup. The tournament, which began in 1960, has consistently broken the shackles created by the society and provided a platform for everyone to show their talent. By creating a level playing field for one and all, be it rich or poor, girl or boy, the Subroto Cup has changed the fabric of football in India. Long may it continue.

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