Ismail Sardar is 14 but has met his mother a handful of times in the last few years. The son of a sex worker in Kolkata’s Sonagachi area, Yakub has spent all his time honing his skills as a footballer.
He says he knows his mother is going through hell to give him a life. “We hope one day our lives will change if I can achieve my goal. Football, I hope, will one day give me recognition,” Sardar says.
The teenager and his friends — all children of Sonagachi sex workers — are aiming to make history by becoming the first-of-its-kind team to compete in a national under-15 youth league.
The young players make do with second-hand boots and meagre meals but are buoyed by the enthusiasm of their mothers, who often come see them play at local tournaments.
They are trained and looked after by the Durbar Sports Academy (DSA), which has applied to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) for the league spot next season.
“We have submitted the documents necessary for qualification. The academy has its turf that can be used as home ground. We have requested the AIFF for a visit too,” said a senior official of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) that looks after the welfare of sex workers in Asia’s largest red-light district.
The team has also been invited to the prestigious Dana Cup in Denmark next month and the DSA has stretched itself to arrange for airfare.
The dream began in 2010 when Sajjak Ali became the first sex worker’s son to make it to the Bengal Under-14 squad. His success paved the way for other children from Sonagachi to take up football as a way out of ignominy and hardship.
What started as an evening exercise soon morphed into a full-fledged squad that trains at the Rahul Vidyaniketan in Baruipur on the southern fringes of Kolkata. Here, the children live and learn from coaches when they are not going to school.
The teenagers also polish their skills in a league called ‘Padatik’, organised by a forum of sex workers’ organisations and comprising 14 teams from red-light areas. The ‘Padatik’ league sides were recently bought by patrons for Rs 7000.