As the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Jhund hits theatres today, the story of Vijay Barse, around whom the biographical sports drama is centred, is emerging from obscurity. Directed by Nagraj Manjule, the movie tells the tale of how Barse transformed the lives of children living in slums through football.
Barse’s journey began in 2001 at Nagpur’s Hislop College, where he worked as a sports teacher. Here, he took note of some children kicking around a broken bucket as a makeshift football. He offered them a real ball, and encouraged them to continue playing.
The coach had recognised these children from when he saw them on campus grounds, usually smoking or hanging around. Watching them kick a bucket around was his revelation — football could help them move towards a brighter future.
At the time, Barse was already organising frequent rallies to protect sports grounds and promote fitness. So he decided to expand his work, and arrange a tournament for children coming from under-resourced families. To his surprise, around 128 teams participated in the event.
With this, Zopadpatti Football, or Slum Soccer, was born in 2002. This is a soccer academy that provides training and rehabilitation to children living in slum areas. When the initiative had just begun, sponsors were scarce, and the coach funded most of Slum Soccer’s expenses from his own pocket. Today, children from over 15 states are connected with the organisation.
After retirement, Barse spent Rs 18 lakh to set up Krida Vikas Sanstha Nagpur (KSVN), an NGO that would work as the parent organisation for Slum Soccer. The organisation conducts state and national level football tournaments and offers fair opportunities to these children.
In 2007, Barse and his team were invited to the Homeless World Cup in South Africa. Here, they had the chance to meet Nelson Mandela. “I received the biggest recognition for my work that day when he put a hand on me and said, ‘My son, you’re doing a great job’,” he said.
“I am a sports teacher, but I am not promoting the development of football,” he told The Indian Express. “I am promoting development through football.”
Barse was felicitated with the Real Hero Award by Sachin Tendulkar in 2012. This was for his selfless work in nurturing and moulding new talents in India’s football arena, especially those coming from low-income families. In 2017, he gained popularity when his story was told on Aamir Khan’s show Satyameva Jayate.
“I realised that these kids were away from bad habits as long as they were playing on the field. What else can a teacher give?” he said on the show.
Slum Soccer has many programmes for the development of children living in slum areas. For instance, their Deaf Kidz Goal project aims to train children with hearing disabilities to become coaches and teach children important life skills through football.
Barse has expressed immense admiration for the way he has been portrayed on the big screen. “It’s the biggest day of my life. I saw the movie. I must say director Nagraj Manjule has covered every moment of my life in these three hours. Nothing has been left. Amitabh, my favourite actor, has presented my every emotion just perfectly,” he told Times of India.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)
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