Other States

Girls and boys of M.P. village on a roll after skatepark was built

Ulrike Reinhard, founder of non-profit Janwaar Castle. File  

When a skatepark was being built at a village in Panna district five years ago, locals were left confused: Is it a hospital? A hostel maybe? But as the structure began taking shape, children skittishly rolled down its slippery edges, roaring with laughter, content with finally having their own set of slides.

The same park, called Janwaar Castle, surrounded by agriculture fields in Janwaar village, sent India’s two of the three skateboarders to a world championship in China in 2018. “It is because of skateboarding my parents haven’t married me off yet,” said Asha Gond, 21, a farmer’s daughter who’s taken part in two national competitions as well.

The sport, yet to find a toehold in the country, is helping challenge caste and gender prejudices in the village. With children and youth as changemakers, and the disruptive force driving skateboarding has unsettled a few locals, but accorded an identity to tens of children and their families, most just below or above the poverty line. As agriculture remains unsustainable locally owing to the water crisis, children find hope in skateboarding to pull their households, who depend on agriculture labour, out of enduring penury.

Inspired by a similar initiative in Afghanistan, German national Ulrike Reinhard asked artists worldwide to transform skateboards into art, and auctioned them online raising $17,000 to build the park in 2015. Currently two parks cater to around 50 children of the village, the second one owned by Barefoot Skateboarder which is managed Ms. Gond. In addition, Ms. Reinhard’s non-profit organisation the Rural Changemakers has helped locals build skateparks in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Rajasthan.

Young skaters must stick to three non negotiable rules: “No school, no skating”, “Everyone is equal” and “Girls first”. “This has improved school attendance,” said Ms. Reinhard. From 30, the attendance had jumped to 55-60 at the local school before the lockdown was imposed. In addition, boys share their boards with girls without protest during practice-hours from 7 to 9 a.m. and in the evening after school.

“There are around 20-25 girls practising every day,” said Ms. Gond, who said they learnt mostly by watching videos online and peer-learning. When she started off, villagers told her parents she must stay home, do chores like other girls. “They told them I roamed around with boys while practising. But when I took on a greater responsibility, won medals, they were ok with it,” said Ms. Gond, who shares her salary with her parents, owners of around five acres.

The sport has brought the village’s two communities — tribals and the dominant Yadavs — on the same platform. “Most importantly, a conversation ensued between folks from the two communities who could hardly see eye-to-eye in the past,” said Ms. Reinhard. Initially, only Yadav boys took part but slowly even tribal children who showed interest were absorbed, creating an equitable space.

When you wanted to change a completely closed system, a disruptive factor was required, she said. “You have to confront the predominant mainstream with a counter-culture. And in Janwaar skateboarding was the perfect counter-culture, sanding for open-ended development, where you can find yourself, where you can do your own thing,” she said.

Skateboards and shoes as well as trips to tournaments are crowd-funded. “We are yet to receive any support from the government,” she said. She demanded it should at least cover expenses while organising championships, provide medical support and offer training from qualified people.

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 10:11:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/girls-and-boys-of-mp-village-on-a-roll-after-skatepark-was-built/article32328649.ece

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