A group of youngsters in Kerala organises Gender-Neutral Football League (GNFL), an event for men, women, and transgender people to come on the same field and play.
Amir Khan’s runaway hit, Dangal has put the limelight on some serious issues prevailing in our society. It is a nice portrayal of how one person questioned a taboo that was considered normal by almost everyone. It also tells us how sports can empower girls. Here is another brave attempt by a group of progressive youngsters from Kerala who are trying to defy the strong societal barriers that segregate genders.
They want to spread the message of human equality sans gender boundaries, using football, one of the all-time passions for Keralites.
Kerala has been a paradox of progressive movements and modern thought co-existing with traditional customs and taboos. Gender segregation starting from schools itself is one area where the light of modernity is yet to be seen. Girls are usually not given entry in playgrounds or accorded the same freedom or chances to play sports as much as boys. Transgenders, as in other areas, had been an ostracized lot too. This is the reason why individual feats by females in sports are considered exceptions and not the norm, even when such champions are celebrated and applauded by all.
Yuvasamithi, an informal group of youngsters attached to KSSP, Kerala’s premier People’s Science Movement, have been active in discussing and formulating campaigns in many areas of social relevance, with gender equality and justice among the most important ones. And football is one of the – if not ‘the’ – most popular sport in Kerala, especially in the Malabar region. All major international teams have huge fan following and all major football events are closely followed by people. The state has also given birth to many National and International players and successful professional teams in the sport. Football tournaments with large fan following – some even floodlit – are a regular sight during vacations. Teams of Elevens, Sevens and Fives compete in such tournaments, which witness huge crowds. But one notable feature of such events is that they are almost exclusively male-dominated, be it in organizing, participation or viewership.
It is hard to see women in the crowds too. This has never been a point of serious discussion, which is surely a sign of a deep-rooted patriarchal mindset.
It is in this backdrop that Yuvasamithi decided to showcase a model of gender neutrality in the sports ground, by organizing a Gender-Neutral Football League (GNFL) as part of its SCRIBES science-cultural fest, which is an event that gathers youth from all over the state and includes discussions, film screenings and performances. The league-level tournaments were kicked-off at the Government High School ground at Pilicode in Kasaragod district on January 15, where teams comprising of men, women and transgenders played against each other in true spirits of the sport. It was a ‘Fives’ or Five-a-side affair in which each team consisted of two male players, two females and one transgender/queer player. If a transgender/queer player was absent, one female player could be included as a replacement. Five teams fought with each other and the winners were given prizes in a public function attended by activists and local community leaders and people’s representatives. Esha Kishore, a transgender activist and dancer who played in the tournament described playing football as a first-time experience in her Facebook post.
District-level matches are scheduled for February and the final rounds will also be played in February at Malappuram, which is synonymous with fervour for football.
This is not for the first time that such an attempt is being made. In 2016, another set of football matches were conducted as a friendly affair by the members of a WhatsApp group in Thrissur, where male and female players came together. The initiative by Yuvasamithi is unique, for this is the first instance of such a tournament being organized with a schedule, rules and regulations, and including transgender players. The tournament, even though conducted as a humble affair, has made its own impact on social media and in the newspapers as well.
The activists of Yuvasamithi hope that this initiative will spark a much-needed discussion on gender roles, equality and entitlements, and will eventually lead to a more egalitarian society for the sake of coming generations.
Know more about KSSP here.