International Youth Day: Kabaddi for empowerment
To celebrate this year’s International Youth Day, we caught up with some of the amazing young sportswomen taking part in our Kabaddi project in West Bengal, to hear about their experiences of lockdown and their thoughts and feelings as activities resume.
In March, India imposed strict lockdown restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Kabaddi for empowerment project was put on hold. However, many activities have been able to restart, such as family meetings, study circles and community outreach sessions. The project uses Kabaddi (a popular Indian sport), along with community integration mechanisms, to support the empowerment of girls at risk of or affected by unsafe migration and early marriage in West Bengal, India.
Check out our video to learn more about the project
For the young people taking part in the project, the impact of the pandemic is vast. For Priyanka (17 years old, from Malda), the economic consequences of the virus are causing serious concerns for her and her family. “My father, a street vendor, is one of the groups worst affected by the lockdown. During this period, we have struggled to sustain ourselves as a family.”
Many people in the region have lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic, bringing with it a range of social issues. “Alcoholism intake has increased in many families since June, which is when the Government re-opened liquor shops,” says Somasree, 16 years old and member of the ‘Mukti’ Kabaddi group, from Berhampore. “With increased economic uncertainty, anxiety, and alcoholism, I feel that domestic violence against women has increased. In my neighbourhood, I see men spending their savings to purchase liquor while there are food shortages for their families.”
Priyanka and her family in her hometown of Mathpara
For Priyanka, uncertainty over the virus has caused her to feel anxious. However, she has managed to stay in touch with her friends. “I am mostly connecting [with friends] through WhatsApp or text messages which I send from my older brother’s phone. Thankfully, we are still having warm-up sessions and study circles, where I have the chance to see my friends in person, to chat and have fun.” For Somasree, the study circles are a crucial part of the project. “They are not just group sessions – they have become a safe and secure space for me,” she says. “Through these sessions my thoughts and perspectives have been expanded, and I have started studying harder for my board exam.”
Earlier this year, a man confronted Somasree and her family, demanding that she marries his brother. She was terrified but decided to seek help from her peers and the field coordinators of the project. With their support, Somasree was able to resolve the situation. “Didi (field coordinator) from Praajak supported and guided me at every step. With her support, we approached the Ward Councillor where we reported the incident. He arranged for my parents to talk to a local Minister, who then ensured us that the two brothers would not trouble us anymore.”
Somasree with some of her teammates at the first Annual Kabaddi League tournament
Somasree now dreams of becoming a teacher and helping others. She has successfully passed her secondary exams and is eagerly awaiting the formation of a larger, mixed Kabaddi team. “Social differences between girls and boys affect us deeply, not only girls but also boys. As scientists and doctors are working to invent the vaccine for Coronavirus, one day our movement will also work to eliminate these social differences.”
While both girls miss playing Kabaddi, they are hopeful that they will be on the mat competing again soon. “This is not just a sport”, says Somasree. “Kabaddi has given me confidence, supported me in how I solve problems and given me courage to deal with all adversities. I hope things will go back to normal soon so that we can return to playing Kabaddi again.”
Project coordinators in West Bengal are working hard to adapt to current challenges so they can continue to support people like Priyanka and Somasree and their families.
The Kabaddi project is funded by Comic Relief in the UK, and managed by Praajak, Terre des hommes India Foundation, and Terre des hommes UK. All photos are property of Tdh India. For more information, please contact email@example.com or tweet @Tdh_UK.
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