CRY shows an example of how SPORTS can be a strong tool for WOMEN EMPOWERMENT

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They are the warriors, both in life and on stage

How a combo of sports and education can become a game-changer in empowering adolescent girls, while motivation and guidance can help them rise to any challenge in life.

The self-defence training sessions, being held since February-March, are part of a larger programme ‘Educate the Girl Child’ by CRY to support girls’ education and empowerment, and bolster wholesome personality development through extra-curricular activities like sports and music.

When 11-year-old Rupali Sardar took the stage at the Wako India West Bengal State Kickboxing Championship – 2021 at Jalpaiguri last week, there was one nervous heart beating in the audience, louder than ever. Her teacher, Mou Ghosh, who she lovingly calls didiwas apprehensive about what was to unfold next on stage. Rupali’s opponent was burly and sturdy, more than twice her tiny frame. How would the 11-year-old match up?

Well, the fears were put to rest in no time. The frail girl took up the challenge, blow to blow, kick to kick, with raw aggression and undaunted spirit. She fell down, got kicked and bruised but bounced back with all her might. At the end of the two-minute bout, the tiny girl, battered and bruised, was standing tall – her eyes gleaming like the gold (medal) she had just pocketed.

Rupali is the youngest of the group of girls who have been taking karate and kick-boxing lessons, under watchful mentors, at the site of the ‘Educating the Girl Child’ project, implemented by CRY. The self-defence training sessions, being held since February-March, are part of a larger programme to support girls’ education and empowerment, and bolster wholesome personality development through extra-curricular activities like sports and music. 

A group of 13 from the project site, including Rupali, won medals and warmed hearts at the Jalpaiguri event by sheer dint of confidence and a never-give-up attitude. 15-year-old Laxmi Mahato, a Class X student, has returned with a silver medal, and newfound confidence to pursue karate and kick-boxing even more seriously, along with her studies. 

Laxmi does not hesitate to admit that she used to be scared of walking the dark lanes in her neighbourhood for fear of being harassed and teased. That fear is now long gone. “I am a karate Black-Belt. I want to teach karate to other girls in my community so that they are not scared to walk the dark lanes alone. Deep inside us girls, there is courage, confidence and skill. We just have to use our strengths correctly to protect ourselves and overpower the attackers,” says the 15-year-old.

The transformation Rupali, Laxmi and the other girls have undergone in the past few months is for all to see. As Mou, a special educator at the project narrates to me the background and living conditions of the girls, it is evident that even at this tender age, the girls ensure hardships in their lives that are more intense, painful and long-lasting than a mere kickboxing/karate bout on stage. They live in an impoverished locality on the southern fringes of the city, where the struggle for the basic necessities is stark and real.  Caught in this vicious circle of poverty, illiteracy and lack of family income, the children, more specifically girls, live through a deprived childhood, shackled by compulsions, gender violence and mental and physical harassment, within and outside their families. 

For most in the group of 13, the trip to Jalpaiguri was the first time they were stepping out of their homes without their parents and the first time they were travelling on a train. But the grit with which they embraced this change speaks volumes of the impact the self-defence and life skill sessions have had on their mental make-up.

Rupali and most of the girls have nothing going right in their lives. But it’s this pain of not having anything that transforms into raw aggression when they take the stage. Their only weapon is the spirit with which they live and the dreams that they still harbour. The self-defence sessions help them discover the power within themselves. The need of the hour is to give them the confidence to realize that they can overcome all hurdles, obstacles and opponents lying in their way. Isn’t that what “empowerment” is all about?

By virtue of their performance at the Jalpaiguri event, Rupali, Laxmi and their mates have qualified for the nationals of the championship, to be held soon. As they practice harder and dream bigger, it’s the honest and confident words of the 11-year-old girl that ring loud and true: “I am confident that I can beat anyone and everyone in the world, even if they are bigger and stronger than me. If I lose, I will not be sad and I will never give up. I will learn from my mistake and try even harder the next time. I know I will go to the top someday.”

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Trina Chakrabarti, Regional Director, CRY – Child Rights and You (East) A Chevening Scholar from the University of Essex with a Masters in the Theory and Practice of Human Rights, Trina graduated from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and started her career in CSR with the Tata Group and CARE India. She joined CRY in 2002 as a part of the Development Support team and went on to lead Volunteer Action before taking on the Director's role for the East. Trina believes that children can change the world and hopes to make a difference in children’s lives through her work with CRY. About CRY – Child Rights and You CRY – Child Rights and You is an Indian NGO that works towards ensuring happier childhoods for all children. Over the last 4 decades, CRY and its partners have ensured lasting change in the lives of over 3 million underprivileged children in India. For more details visit www.cry.org

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