It’s a cold early morning at the Harda Nehru stadium and there are only
few people including some morning walkers present. But in a corner, a net is up
and few young cricketers practice intently.
A medium pacer and a spinner alternately bowl at the batter who takes perfect
shots at them. A coach watches from distance and shouts instructions
intermittently, pointing out at errors and giving improvement tips. It looks like a
typical practice session for young cricketers from a distance.
But surprise awaits those who draw closer. Beneath the cricketing caps, ponytails
and braids fly and it becomes clear that the practicing youngsters are all girls – in
the age group 12 to 20.
However, the only ones to be surprised are those who watch this session for the
first time. For the regulars at Harda Nehru stadium, this has now become a
routine affair that draws little surprise or unwanted attention.
But this was not always so for the members of the ‘Power of girls’ initiative under
Changeloomer project of NGO Synergy Sansthan of Harda. The initiative, started
by two young cricketing aspirant girls Hemlata Mandrai (anchor) and Toshiba
Qureshi (co-anchor) with the objective of bringing in gender equality, especially in
sports, has turned into a literal breeding ground for girls’ cricketing talent in
comparatively small town of Harda.
Hemlata and Toshiba themselves are on the verge of being selected in the
Narmadapuram divisional level girls’ cricket team. At least ten other girls are
playing considerably well. More importantly, at least 20 school going girls are
showing regular interest in learning cricketing skills and arriving in the stadium to
learn the basics from Hemlata and Toshiba – a scenario unimaginable in Harda
even this time last year.
Given fact that sexual abuse cases hit the sporting scene in the district last year,
the achievement for Hemlata and Toshiba of pulling in young girls to cricket
becomes more appreciable, locals say.
And there is a story of intense perseverance and dedication behind this
achievement. Like the official local coach Sanjay Sharma would say – “the power
of these girls is winning. From being ridiculed, looked upon with suspicion and
outright rejected as sportspersons few months earlier, their determination
dedication, sincerity and skills has turned them into somewhat of local celebrities
now. People appreciate them and parents do not hesitate in sending their
daughters to be part of their team.”
The coach also admits that he himself had kept ignoring the girls’ request to train
them for two to three months, expecting their enthusiasm to wane off. “But they
did not give up. They kept pestering me and with the help of librarian of Harda
Degree College Reena Gahlod, who is their main encourager, they managed to
convince me to give in. Now I am proud of my girls. I am sure some of them would
shine at national level with some good practice,” he adds.
The girls proved their mettle when they beat boys’ team in a friendly match two
months ago. They also had a match with Hoshangabad girls’ team recently.
Rehana Shah, a BA II student of local government college daily travels from
Magardha on outskirts of Harda everyday for the early practice and college, says
that she had an interest in cricket since childhood but never knew how to go
about it. Since her bus came in early every day for her college classes to start, she
started running in the stadium and chanced upon this team. Rest is history and
now she is one of the best batter in the team.
Afsa Khan, student of class 7 says that apart from cricket they also get to learn
about gender equality, girls’ safety, team spirit and perseverance by being part of
Anchor Hemlata says that even for her, the journey was not easy. Though she
always wanted to be a cricketer, her resolve started shaking last year, but her
father stood by her and asked her to do what she liked best for herself. “So Idecided to be in cricket and bring in other girls too. “I have emerged as better
leader and person. I pestered the local authorities so much they were forced to
give us a proper cricket kit,” she laughs.
Toshiba had a tougher time coming from a traditional family with no sporting
background, but now has their full support. She wants to join the police force and
continue with her cricketing. “I have learnt to deal with officials, talk well, have
confidence in myself and also to lead by example. This is a life changing
experience for her.”