On April 23, a video of Anita Kumari from Jharkhand, who had been selected for a national camp for the 2022 FIFA Under-17 Women's World Cup, was uploaded on YouTube by a Ranchi-based news outlet. The video showed the dilapidated condition of Kumari's home and her family's daily struggles and hardships. The video went viral and struck a chord with netizens.
Kumari is a resident of village Charihujir in the Kanke subdivision of the Ranchi district in Jharkhand. Her mother, Asha Devi, is a daily wage labourer, and her father, Puran Mahto, in Kumari's words, is a "drunkard who doesn't do anything." Fourth among five sisters, Kumari's family is so poverty-stricken that all they can afford to eat is "mad-bhat" (rice fermented in water), which forms a part of her daily diet.
Despite the hardships, Kumari made it to the list of 33 for the national camp of the FIFA Under-17 Women's World Cup that will feature teams from 16 nations. It will occur between October 11 and 30 at three venues in India, including Bhubaneswar's Kalinga Stadium, Margao's Nehru Stadium, and Navi Mumbai's D.Y. Patil Stadium. India coach, Thomas Dennerby, will lead the camp.
When she was seven years old, Kumari met her coach Anand Prasad Gope, who had been giving free football training to girls since 2013. Anand became no less than a messiah for Kumari and many girls like her.
"I was always interested in playing football since I grew up watching my sisters play the sport," said the 16-year-old Kumari to DH. "Anand Sir convinced my parents to let me play football and pursue it seriously." She is currently attending the national coaching camp at Jamshedpur.
"When Kumari started playing football, I quickly realized that she is a gifted player," said coach Gope to DH. "She was the first to reach the ground and was the most hard-working of all the girls. Due to her commitment, I started coaching her even harder."
However, the FIFA Under-17 Women's World Cup Camp journey wasn't an easy one, both for Kumari and Anand.
"Everyone around me used to discourage me from playing football. They used to ask me to do household chores and look after the cattle. They even had a big problem with the shorts I used to wear while playing football," said Kumari while narrating the hardships she had to endure. "Sometimes, the villagers even used to spread glass shards across the ground so that we couldn't practice."
Talking about her selection to the FIFA Under-17 Women's World Cup Camp, Kumari said that she still can't believe something like this has happened in her life. While it remains to see if she will make it to the final 23-member squad for the main tournament, Kumari is hopeful.
Meanwhile, Anand has had his share of struggles. An inhabitant of village Hutup in Ormanjhi tehsil of Ranchi, he started training 15 girls in 2013. He mentioned that the biggest problem was to get the girls out of the traditional societal setup. He used to buy footballs, kits, and training shoes for the girls. He did not receive any funding from anyone.
"In my area, girls as early as 13 and 14 used to get married off by their parents. They weren't allowed to go to school or step out of their homes. It took me around six months to make their parents understand what girls could do by going to school or playing sports," said Anand.
"At present, I train almost 200 girls. However, it's saddening that even after nine years of providing constant free football coaching to girls, many of whom have gone on to represent Jharkhand in national level tournaments, I have never received any support or assistance from the state government, Jharkhand Directorate of Sports & Youth Affairs, or the central government."
(Kartikeya is a journalist from Delhi passionate about covering culture, politics, conflict, food, and human interest stories.)