Why Mankhurd girls have stopped playing football: Blame the neighbourhood boys | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Why Mankhurd girls have stopped playing football: Blame the neighbourhood boys

ByJyoti Punwani
Jun 19, 2024 09:04 AM IST

Parents living in the slums of Mankhurd have stopped sending their daughters to play football because the boys who targeted Shabnam continue to play there

MUMBAI: Seven years ago, Umar Bhai Shaikh, who describes himself as a born rebel, had asked his 14-year-old daughter if she wanted to play football, even though he knew he’d have to brave opposition from his community. Today, his daughter Shabnam is a licensed football coach, but Umar Bhai refuses to send her to the BMC ground in Govandi where she has spent the best moments of her young life.

Why Mankhurd girls have stopped playing football
Why Mankhurd girls have stopped playing football

On May 31, when she was coaching her regular batch of around 40 children, most of them girls, Shabnam was hit on the chest and nose by a tennis ball aimed at her by boys playing cricket nearby. She had to spend six days in the Shatabdi Hospital, where the injury to her nose was treated.

Like Umar Bhai, half the parents living in the slums of Mankhurd have stopped sending their daughters to play football since May 31, because the boys who targeted Shabnam continue to play there, despite Shabnam filing a police complaint against them.

“Unless those boys are arrested, I will not send my daughter there,” said an angry Umar Bhai.

The May 31 incident encapsulates the obstacles that hinder the sporting spirit of girls coming from one of Mumbai’s most deprived areas: Mandala in Mankhurd. Lack of a playground in Mankhurd forces them to play in the BMC maidan in Govandi, a space open to all, including drug addicts and vagrants. Two years back, recalled Shabnam, she was propositioned on Valentine’s Day by a drunk youth, who wouldn’t go away till she defended herself in the manner she knew best: by kicking him like she would have kicked a football.

Now, the 21-year-old faces the unpleasant prospect of dealing with a group of boys who targeted her only because she told them to move away from the spot where she was training her team, as their ball kept hitting her players. Angered that she was “shouting too much,” the boys aimed their ball at her.

“Boys cannot tolerate the sight of girls playing with abandon,” said Sabah Khan, founder of Parcham, the feminist group that started the unusual initiative of girls playing football in the Muslim-dominated suburb of Mumbra in 2012. That initiative has now spread to Mandala in Mankhurd, Bandra and Jogeshwari.

In Mandala, Shabnam was the first girl to join Parcham’s football team. Ironically, while her father offered her the opportunity, her elder brothers warned her against it, saying their friends would ridicule them if she went out to play in a maidan.

“I told them, both boys and girls must get an equal chance to study and play,” said Umar Bhai. Today, Shabnam’s youngest brother is part of the team that she trains, and her once hesitant mother has also participated in a football camp.

For Shabnam, the last seven years have been liberating. “I remember the joy I felt when my father asked me if I wanted to play football,” she recalled. “I didn’t know what it entailed. All I knew was that here was a chance to go out and play. Till then, like all other women in my family, I lived in purdah and only went out to school.”

The most memorable day in this journey was in 2017 when her team won a trophy in an all- girls’ tournament. “We came home dancing with the trophy; I was so overjoyed I didn’t even bother to put on my burqa and scarf. I even went into the temple where the trophy was first taken for a small thanksgiving puja. Then we entered my colony and my father held the trophy aloft while all of us jumped with joy.”

Farhat Jahan Ali, convenor of Parcham, is determined to see the May 31 incident to its logical end. Not only did the police not respond immediately though Shabnam was bleeding after the ball hit her, but they did not even take her to hospital, she said. Also, they did not record Shabnam’s statement in hospital correctly, she alleged. “Neither have the police applied the relevant sections in the FIR, nor have they named the accused,” added advocate Persis Sidhwa. They now plan to write to the concerned DCP about this.

Meanwhile, Umar Bhai hopes to continue his quest for a playground in Mankhurd, so that Mandala’s children don’t have to go all the way to Govandi. The ground exists, he said, but his letters to the concerned authorities since 2005, the MMRDA and the collector, have yielded nothing so far.

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