In a state that is infamous for the worst sex ratio in the country, Haryana’s Alakhpura village is ahead of its time. One may ask how?
With a population of a mere 2,000 people, mostly farmers, almost every other home in this village has a woman footballer!
With over 300 women footballers in the village, over 11 have successfully represented India and the state across age groups in various tournaments and won laurels.
For most of these women, being successful footballers is the only means of improving their livelihood. These young women are challenging gender roles in the traditional setting, and proving a girl child is no less than a boy by shouldering the responsibility of their families.
“We practice every day. Storms and rains can’t stop us from playing,” 18-year-old Poonam Sharma told Adrija Bose for the HuffPost India.
Having started playing seven years ago, she represented India at the Asian Football Confederation Under-19 qualifiers in Vietnam last year.
The team hogged limelight after winning the U-17 Subroto Cup, a national tournament, in 2014. They also successfully reached the finals in 2015 and clinched the cup again in 2016. The Alakhpura girls have successfully represented Haryana in age groups, U-14, U-19 and in the national team for over 10 years.
The inception of women’s football in the village happened in 2002. On an ordinary day when the school’s physical education teacher, Gordhan Dass, was training the boys in Kabaddi, the girls walked up to him and said they wanted to play.
He gave them a football lying unused which they started kicking during recess breaks.
What the village initially lacked was a football ground. The villagers requested the government for help. But their plea went unanswered. They decided to take matters into their own hands and dried out a nearby pond. They filled it with sand to create a place for girls to train.
2016 marked the establishment of the Alakhpura FC to play at the first Indian Women’s League (IWL), held by the AIFF (All India Football Federation). When the girls lacked sponsors, the 2,000 villagers donated over ₹ 1.5 lakh to help them participate in the IWL.
Even though they won the regional qualifiers in Haryana, they lost to Manipur’s Eastern Sporting Union in the semi-finals. But their 6-2 victory against Aizawl FC in the group stage garnered them some much-needed spotlight.
“At least one girl plays football from every household in Alakhpura,” said Sonika Bijarnia, the head coach of Alakhpura FC, who represented Haryana at the senior nationals and started training these girls in 2014 after being deputed by the government.
“There were so many difficulties. We didn’t have proper training facilities. But these girls are extremely talented. Their parents try and fund them with whatever little they can. Some give ₹100, and some ₹5,000. They don’t want the girls to stop playing because of lack of funds,” she adds.
Until a few years ago, all the girls had was a set of bricks in place of goalposts, while the pitch was barren. It was only after the girls started winning tournaments, that government help made its way to them.
Currently, the Haryana government has promised some ₹2 crore for sports facilities in the village. In addition to that, this year, the girls’ success in football has won around ₹50-60 lakh in scholarships.
The football revolution has upturned the mindsets of the entire village. No more do the parents of the girls want them to get married abandoning their football careers. The success of the team has placed the village on the map.
“Now people know the village because of our football. The game is our life,” said 19-year-old Jyoti Yadav, who has played the Subroto Cup and in the IWL.
The girls in addition to changing the mindset of the village are also inspiring the boys from the village to take up football.
If one village in Haryana can effect change through sports, every village in the country can! More power to them!
Learn more about the All India Football Federation here.