What happens when a herd of young goats go grazing on new pastures and return with renewed vigour, igniting the imagination of a nation?
It sparks debate.
Early this week, news broke of a group of young girls under the age of 14 from the state of Jharkhand having travelled to Spain to play in a couple of international football tournaments.
The team is a product of the efforts of Yuwa, an organization that looks at empowering youth in Jharkhand. The 18-member team was led by Franz Gastler, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the organization. They had undertaken a tour of San Sebastian for the Donosti Cup and Victoria Gasteiz for the Gasteiz Cup.
The Donosti Cup in San Sebastian is Spain’s biggest football tournament at the junior level with over 400 teams participating from across the globe. The two teams which defeated Yuwa – Santa Teresa and Wisconsin International – were incidentally placed 2nd and 3rd, respectively, out of 36 teams in the Under-14 girls’ category. At the Gasteiz Cup, they were placed 3rd out of ten teams from Spain in their category.
What was more poignant about the entire story was the fact that the team was comprised entirely of tribal girls aged between 10 and 14. The footballing aspect aside, this was a brilliant tribute to the sheer force of the human will. And to think that this beautiful moment almost never happened.
Some of these girls were subjected to some serious abuse from local Panchayat officials when they went to collect their birth certificates. Most players of the Ranchi-based club were born at home and not hospitals, thereby not in possession of birth certificates. The players had to submit their birth certificates to the Spanish embassy at New Delhi to obtain their visas in order to play at the Donosti Cup.
The Yuwa team was the first ever Indian girls’ team to play in Spain. They were a huge hit at the event, which was televised nationally in Spain. Yet, back in India, they failed to create even the faintest flutter.
Yuwa – Taking root in Hutup
Hailing from a rural part of India, one may find his/her opportunities at earning a living limited, unless he/she chooses to move to a big city. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. If you happen to belong to a tribal community dwelling in a rural part of India, that disadvantage is significantly quadrupled.
Jharkhand has the sixth largest population of tribal people in India as per the recent census. A vast majority of them struggle for jobs and livelihoods, crippled by the pressures of rampant mining which has led to their lands being gobbled up and their communities compensated for with a pittance.
The tribal belt in Jharkhand is rife with widespread government corruption, caste warfare and Naxalite violence, apart from being known for its extremely high rates of child marriage and human trafficking. Close to 30,000 under-age girls from this area fall victim to illegal human trafficking every year. It is one of the poorest and least literate regions in the whole of India.
Against the backdrop of such an environment comes the story of the Yuwa Supergoats. These girls have used football as a means to a better life, as a means to empowerment. Hutup village is where it all started, back in 2009, when Franz Gastler, an American citizen who was working as an English teacher in a government school nearby, decided to teach football to the girls of the village, thereby providing them a platform to try and rise above the prevalent glass-house like conditions.
Just as in other tribal villages, Hutup too treated its women and girls rather unfairly. While men played or lay idle, the women worked, both at home and outside. Young girls here mortgage their childhood to run errands for the house in order to make ends meet.