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Terre des hommes (uk)

03.04.2020 - News

The young sportswomen breaking the mould in West Bengal: Hasina's Story

“Before I started playing Kabaddi, I felt I had no value. I just did house chores to support my family and went to school.

Hasina's strength and speed of thought on the Kabaddi court is reflected in everything she does. She's come a long way in the year since we first met her, overcoming shyness, stigma and tradition. We first met a shy girl; we now sit with a confident sportswoman.

Watch our video telling Hasina's story  

Her family are clearly proud. Sitting on a bed in her home in the community of Koltapa, which sits beside the dusty railway tracks in Malda, her parents watch on. They've come a long way too. 

“When the project started last year, my family's reaction to my wanting to play Kabaddi was negative. My mother and brother told me that if I wear shorts and t-shirts in the public field during the training sessions, no one will marry me. I decided to go on a hunger strike, so I didn't eat for 3 days and I told my father that I wouldn't eat until he would change his mind and let me play.

In Terre des hommes' work to support the empowerment of women and girls in communities across the world, the support of men like Hasina's father is critical. It this case, it took time. 

“My father used to be an alcoholic and life in the family was not easy because of this, however three years ago he stopped drinking alcohol and he pays attention and takes care of the family now. I was able to speak to my father and make him understand that playing Kabaddi would be a good thing for me, and he was then able to convince the rest of my family. Now all my family supports me.

Hasina with her parents in her home in Malda 

"My father had arranged my marriage for this year. I always had a dream to not be married at a young age. I told my family that I didn't want to be married, that it was too early and not the right time for me."

This project uses Kabaddi to empower girls at risk of or affected by unsafe migration in West Bengal, India. The sport is a 'hook' to encourage the girls participation and independence. The project then works with them to increase their knowledge and access to education and employment opportunities, and bolsters their support mechanisms and community integration. Around 1700 girls like Hasina, as well as 1000 boys will be supported.

Tom from Terre des hommes UK explains why the project team decided on using Kabbadi - “after learning about the sport from our local partners and staff in India, you realise that Kabaddi is the ultimate team sport. As you are quite literally working arm in arm with your teammates, the sport is built on a sense of co-operation and collaboration. Kabaddi is also a resource-light sport. It requires little space, training or equipment to play so it's easy and affordable to set up. Its typically associated with boys, but our work in the region has identified the sport as accessible for girls, and a great way to tackle gender stereotypes and open healthy dialogue about gender roles.

Hasina has leapt at the opportunity to play Kabaddi as part of the project. From never playing the sport just over a year ago, she is now representing the state of West Bengal - a spectacular feat considering the state's population is around 90m people. This achievement has also unlocked confidence in Hasina to talk to her family about her personal life. 

Hasina is filled with confidence compared to when we first met her. 

Hasina's and her friends are also better at dealing with pressures at school. 

“When I play Kabaddi, I lose my self, and I have a play to die fight in me. I love Kabaddi so much. In the past, when I walked to school, I would come to a road where there were boys who would make comments to me. I used to be afraid that something bad would happen. Now that I play Kabaddi, I have a team of peers. These boys are still there, and they still make comments, but I am not afraid of them now. I feel confident and strong enough to confront them if I have to. With my team, we'fve discussed this issue and we came up with a strategy to share each other's phone numbers and agree to message one another if we ever need support. We are a team now.

Hasina with her teammates at a Kabaddi training session. 

Though project activities are currently suspended due to the COVID19 outbreak, we are proud that the girls participating in the project got the chance to take place in the first annual Kabbadi league tournament in January, in West Bengal's capital Kolkata. Hasina explains the excitement surrounding the tournament - 

“When the opportunity came for our team to go to Kolkata with the project to play in the annual Kabaddi league tournament, I was so excited. My team members and I had never been to Kolkata before. It is a big city that we see on the TV and that we hear about. Some neighbors teased me about being a 'bad girl' for wanting to travel without my family to the city. I ignored them.

" Being in Kolkata was amazing. However, as I have been selected as a state player the State Kabaddi Association will not allow me to compete in any other formal Kabaddi events, as this will disqualify me from playing at state level. For this reason, I was not allowed to play during the event in Kolkata, and this was a very painful experience. However, I encouraged my teammates at the event, I really liked meeting the other girls who were playing in the tournament from Siliguri and Berhampur (other cities in West Bengal). It made me realize that there are many other young girls like me, with similar challenges, but more importantly girls who are fighting and chasing their dreams.I took their mobile numbers and I am now in contact with some of these girls.

Hasina's team, without Hasina, in the first annual kabaddi tournament for our project in Kolkata 

“When I returned from Kolkata and our team had runner up trophies and I had a gift that had been presented to me by Monika Nath (the first Indian female to win the highest sports award in Kabaddi), I made my family so proud. People in the community don't tease me so much now, not to my face anyway. I choose to respond to any negative comments by remaining silent and ignoring them. I believe I will show my community through my success that I am not a 'bad girl' "

Hasina at the Kolkata Kabaddi tournament with Tdh India's Child Protection Program Manager, Paulami De Sarkar

This 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 and text - Tdh. For more information, please contact or tweet @Tdh_UK