A team of female footballers from Jharkhand on the verge of making history at a tournament in Spain is allegedly facing severe abuse from panchayat officials angling for bribes.
The members of Yuva Football Club, mostly poor tribals between 12 to 14 years of age, said they were slapped and even made to sweep floors when they went to the panchayat office on the outskirts of state capital Ranchi to get birth certificates.
Many players of the Ranchi-based club — which uses sport and education to tackle child marriage and human trafficking problems — were born at home, not hospitals, and do not have birth certificates.
The footballers have to submit their birth certificates at the Spanish embassy in New Delhi within a week for visas to compete in the week-long Donosti Cup beginning June 30.
"I have been going to the panchayat office for the last three months, but am yet to get the certificate," Rinki Kumari, 13, Yuva captain said on Tuesday.
She said panchayat sewak Dinesh Sau had told the players, "Jitna jyada paise degi, utna jaldi certificate milega (The more money you give, the earlier you get your certificate)."
Rinki added, "I have given him Rs 200. He wants more. A few days ago, I pestered Sau to get the work done. He slapped me."
Teammate Sunita Kumari, 13, said, "Apart from slapping me, Sau also made me sweep the office floor."
At least nine more players have faced similar trouble at the office and their coach Franz Gastler, an American, is livid.
"They will be the first Indian girls to play in Spain. The team is all over the tournament website, even covered on Spanish TV. Yet, they get no respect here," he fumed.
Sau denied asking for bribes, but conceded he had slapped a couple of players "out of sheer love and affection towards the kids".
Ranchi zone inspector general of police MS Bhatia said, "If the girls write to us, we will take stringent action."