Football

Life is just a goal away in Sonagachi

Football is helping fight stigma against sex workers’ children in Kolkata’s red-light area

There was a time when the children of the sex workers in Sonagachi, Kolkata’s red-light area, would be taunted and abused. Today, when these kids are cheered during a football match, it’s a great feeling for Smarajit Jana.

Jana is chief advisor at Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, which fights for the rights of sex workers. Uniquely, the organisation uses football to fight discrimination against the children here.

“Children of sex workers are stigmatised because of their mothers’ occupation. To counter this, we started the Durbar Sports Academy, where football teams of U-13, U-15 and the second division thrive,” says Jana.

Milan Sarkar studies in Class XI and plays for the second division team as their right-back. He has been playing for Durbar since he was nine. “When I was a kid I would play in a field nearby; a footballer dada noticed me and recommended me to the academy,” he says.

 

Sarkar practises between classes and has an evening job as food delivery boy. “I go for practice at 7 in the morning three times a week. It’s tough but I can’t stay away.” His mother is still a sex worker, and is highly supportive. “But she worries too, when I fall down or bruise myself. But that’s all part of football.”

Sarkar’s evening job ends at 11, so he is able to to make it in time for the 11:30 World Cup match. “That’s when the good matches are played,” he smiles. The children watch the matches regularly in their club room, while their trainers and coaches explain the strategies and point out footwork to them.

A die-hard Argentina fan, Sarkar was heartbroken when his idol Messi got knocked out of the fixture. “I have friends who love Portugal and Brazil, so of course fights break out. They have to. But now Portugal fans and I are in solidarity since they too got knocked out only hours later,” he laughs.

The academy wants to bring in girls into the team as well. This year, both the U-13 and U-15 teams qualified for the I-League, which shares the top spot in the Indian football system with the Indian Super League (ISL). In 2014, their practice sessions at Baruipur drew the attention of radio station Red FM, which organised an awareness programme called ‘Baruipur to Brazil’. Sarkar says he wants to pursue football after school too. “I want to give it a shot.”

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Printable version | May 19, 2020 7:44:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/football/life-is-just-a-goal-away-in-sonagachi/article24358723.ece

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