She walks in unceremoniously in a T-shirt and trackpants, her dusky face expressionless. She speaks in a soft, low voice that calls for not much attention. But don’t let her calm persona fool you — there is unimaginable strength behind it. Named after BR Ambedkar’s mother, 19-year-old R Beemabai, a resident of Vyasarpadi, has represented the State in Under-14 and Under-16 tournaments and is part of the Madras University football team. Here’s her story as told by her:
I passed by the SCSTEDS football ground as I walked home from school every day. The energy that surrounded it, the way the boys jumped when they scored a goal...It made me want to join them. I told this to my father, who works as a security guard. But he brushed it off asking what does a girl have to do with football. I was adamant and he finally gave in.
But soon, I hit puberty, after which he refused to let me play in shorts. There were only a few female footballers then and he didn’t want me playing with the boys. By this time, I was fully into the sport — the way I felt when I scored a goal playing defense, is indescribable. Finally, thanks to my coaches at SCSTEDS, I got the go-ahead from my family.
I have transformed after I started playing football. Everything has changed; from the way I speak, address fellow team-mates — I call them nanba and thozhi (Tamil terms for friend)... I scored 453 out of 500 in my Class X public exams. Today, I take tuitions for younger children and have been selected as a change-maker in the Ashoka’s Youth Venture programme.
But I had to struggle at every step of the way. For a girl from a disadvantaged section of society to play football is a big deal; but more so if she gets to play at tournaments. The selection process is unfair most times. Players from Vyasarpadi are not even informed of the date and time of the selection.
I have gone to the Nehru Stadium at 5 am by bus unsure of when I will be called for trials. But players from other parts of the city arrive at the right time, some two hours later, in their car. You can imagine the stamina I will have as compared to her while playing. If we are lucky, we get selected. But most times, we are side-lined simply because we are from Vyasarpadi.
Why are we treated this way? Even in the media, there is more focus on say, a murder in Vyasarpadi, than a boy making it to Chennaiyin FC. The situation is changing though. As players from SCSTEDS, we are associated with a good standard. This was possible because of our previous track record. I hope to maintain this. I want to change Vyasarpadi’s image. I want to show its new face. One that puts up a good fight on the ground, one that’s committed. This is why I play.