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From guns to goals, Junglemahal puts its best foot forward

Last updated on: February 5, 2013 08:19 IST

From guns to goals, Junglemahal puts its best foot forward

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Indrani Roy

Scores of teenagers in Maoist-hit Junglemahal have picked up the football instead of the gun, thanks to a soccer enthusiast.

Indrani Roy visits a stadium in Salboni to witness a team of young girls focus on their goals, quite literally.

For the past few years, Junglemahal has hit the headlines, albeit for the wrong reasons.

Maoist insurgency in the area had disrupted life. Men and women living there, even teenagers, had reportedly taken up arms for self-defence.

But things are different today. "With the Trinamool Congress coming to power in 2011, the area has ceased to be as violent as it used to be," some locals told rediff.com.

Teenagers here, boys and girls alike, now don't need to pick up guns. Instead, they have taken to the beautiful game.

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Image: A pratice session at the Salboni stadium
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty

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He gave up his job to become a football coach

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About 30 girls in Junglemahal, between the age of 13 and 19, are being trained by Sridam Ghosh. Though Ghosh trains boys as well, of late, he has been concentrating a lot on the girls' team.

Football has always been a passion for Ghosh, so much so that he gave up his job at Tata Motors and became a fulltime coach.

Now, he runs a small cable business and works part time in an investment company. Ghosh tutors boys and girls to take part in big tournaments in Kolkata as well as other parts of India.

Ghosh's story had intrigued us a lot.

Recently, we set out for Salboni stadium, about 200 km from Kolkata, to witness the training session of girls

And we were amazed by what we saw. About 30 teenage girls sporting Sridam XI jerseys were sweating it out.

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Image: Sridam Ghosh trains girls at the Salboni stadium.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty

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'Since Trinamool came to power, Junglemahal has ceased to be violent'

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The inception

After the Trinamool Congress came to power in 2011, the state government had organised a football tournament in Junglemahal where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee gave away prizes. 

It created a huge interest among teenagers and has given an impetus to Ghosh's initiative.

A couple from Kolkata, Raghu Nandy and Ratna, visited Junglemahal for a talent hunt in December last year and selected about 13 girls from Ghosh's team.

The girls were registered with Sarojini Naidu Sports Club, which is run by the Nandys and played in the Indian Football Association league.

"The lives for these girls, thereafter, saw a complete turnaround. For them, it was a dream come true," said Ghosh.

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Image: Girls get training at the Salboni stadium.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty

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'I pawned my wife's jewellery to meet expenses'

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Football coaching is an expensive affair and Ghosh needs money to buy jerseys, footballs, shoes and other training gear. And the ends are not easy to meet.

"I have often withdrawn from my savings to train these girls and even pawned my wife's jewellery to organise tournaments," Ghosh told rediff.com.

He did receive some financial assistance from his employers but 'that's just not enough' to conduct a systematic training regime.

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Image: The footballers attend a training session at the stadium
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
Tags: Ghosh

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'The families of girls are extremely supportive'

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Asked if the girls faced any resistance from their kin, Ghosh was quick to add, "Not at all."

"On the contrary, the parents of these girls inspire and support. We invite them to football tournaments and they are very happy to see their daughters in action," said Ghosh.

Ghosh's words were seconded by Bobita, Archana and Shyamali Mahato, three 'promising stars' of Sridam XI. Bobita studies in Class X, Archana is pursuing her graduation and Shyamali is studying in Class XII.

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Image: Girls practice at the stadium.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty

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'We want to make it big as footballers'

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For these girls, even watching a big football game on television is a novelty. "Will we ever get a chance to take part in such tournaments," wondered Archana.

There is a huge pressure on Shyamali to get married but "I am putting it off fearing my in-laws may not allow me to play football." As for Archana, her parents want her to grow up as a competent footballer and land herself a good job as a player.

Their team member Tania Mudi too has an interesting tale.

She was somewhat socially ostracised because of her father's alleged Maoist link. But once Tania joined the football team, it earned her a position of repute.

"I am ever indebted to Sridam sir for granting me a place in his team. Each time I dribble past an opponent team's player in any tournament, it makes me forget my past," Tania said.

Her father, Saktipada Mudi, is happy to see the smile back on his daughter's face. As a gesture of gratitude to Ghosh, he has set aside nine bighas of his family land for a football academy.

"In case Sridam sir gets government aid to set up a football academy in the area, he can use this land," Tania said.

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Image: (Left to right) Bobita, Archana and Shyamoli Mahato.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty

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All eyes are now on the forthcoming tournament

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The team is training hard for the forthcoming tournaments to be held round the year. They are practising six to seven hours on an average every day.

"For such rigorous practice, the girls need to eat well. I tell their parents to keep a strict eye on their diets," Ghosh said.

To train for the competition, Ghosh has hired the Salboni stadium.

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Image: Girls train at the stadium in Salboni.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty
Tags: Ghosh , Salboni

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No aid from the state government

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The taste of success

Hard work put in by the team has paid off and they have won many accolades.

In the Junglemahal Cup 2012 tournament held last September, a team from Jharkhand emerged the winner whereas Sridam XI was the runner up.

Though Ghosh intends to organise many such tournaments in future, financial constraint is a major deterrent.

No aid from the state government

"On many occasions, we appealed to the state government for monetary assistance but in vain. We visited the Writers' Building a number of times to have a talk with our Sports Minister Madan Mitra but could not meet him," laments Ghosh.

He fished out a letter from his pocket dated March 7, 2012 addressed to the private secretary to minister of state, sports department, Writers' Building. It contained a plea to grant some money to the team to set up a football academy.

"We have the land. All we need from the government is the necessary financial aid to form an academy," Ghosh said. 

"Junglemahal is much more peaceful now. Boys and girls of the area are enjoying a new lease of life through these football matches."

"Many of them want to mature into skilled footballers. A small aid from the government will help their dreams fructify," he added.

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Image: Ghosh with letters written to the government.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty

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Can media be of any help?

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Ghosh welcomes any visit by the media to the Salboni stadium. "Through you, we want our voice to be heard," he said.

However, repeated calls made by rediff.com to the state government's sports department went unanswered though a senior official, who did not want to be named, confirmed that they did receive such a letter.

For the time being, Ghosh will have to chase his dream with whatever little resources he has. He has to keep hoping that a substantial aid will pour in eventually from some benevolent corner.

Till then, the likes of Archana, Tania and Bobita will have continue putting their best forward.

Send donations to help Sridam XI :
Sridam Ghosh
UBI Bank Account 0340010107451
Salboni Branch


Image: The team poses with trophies it has won in the past.
Photographs: Dipak Chakraborty

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