Video Editor: Deepthi Ramdas
Cameraperson & Producer: Smitha TK
It was 6 am and the rays streamed through the crack in the window. Seven-year-old Rakshitha raced her mother to the shower, wore her favourite red jersey, slipped into her chappals and ran towards the door. Giggling along with her friends, she skipped to the beachfront. For the next one hour, she, along with 20 other girls, did a number of jumping jacks, walking knee hugs, side shuffles, lunges, squats, and jogging to begin playing kabaddi.
Thirty-year-old Sathish Kumar has been training these girls, belonging to the age of 6-13 years. They live in fishing hamlets of Koovathur in Chengalpattu district, Tamil Nadu.
"“There are boys playing everywhere. However, there are no girls playing sports in this vicinity. So, I decided to do something new and began training girls. In cities, girls play basketball as well as other sports, but they do not play kabaddi.”" - Sathish Kumar, Kabaddi CoachNo Jobs, No Fees for School
Sathish Kumar lost his job as a school PT teacher due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And so, he goes fishing every morning to earn for his home and his students.
“I ask people I know and a few well-wishers to help us. Now I don’t have a job and taking care of the family has been very difficult. I've even put in my own money to train the girls, without the knowledge of my family. I never had savings to start with,” he said.
Curb on fishing and job losses during the lockdown have left these families with no incomes. All the girls in the hamlets have dropped out of school this year because they were unable to pay the fees.
“I have not put my kids in school this year because I can't afford to get learning devices for online classes,” said Rajendran, Sreeja’s father.
Kabaddi-ing Away Gender Stereotypes
Most of the kids’ fathers were kabaddi players in their youth. However, they didn’t get the opportunity to pursue a career in it. Despite objections from people in villages to not allow their girls to go out and play or wear shorts in public, they have been their best cheerleaders.
“My wife had initially told me not to send a girl child to play outside. She warned me of boys these days. I explained to her that it is okay, and it all depends on our daughter,” Rajendran, 13-year-old Sreeja’s father told The Quint.
"“We have played against boys at schools, and we have won. We just need to see everyone as just players. And if we put our heart into it, we can win.”" - Sreeja
Sathish wants the parents to be involved so that they can see the progress their child is making. He has set up a WhatsApp group where he shares pictures and videos of the students eating, playing, and exercising, which also helps the parents remain calm when their girls stay out for competitions overnight.
“In these villages, girls don’t wear shorts even at home. When they initially started going to tournaments, they saw over 500 people, including men, as their audience. And now, they have got used to wearing shorts,” Sathish said.
Sathish wants to secure their education by training the girls well enough so that they can get a seat in a good college through sports quota, and later on, get a good job as well.
"“All these families are struggling to make ends meet. Many feel the need to fulfil their responsibilities of getting the girls married early. So, as soon as they are 15-16 years old, they are married off. What I want to do is ensure that they get admitted to a college, via sports quota, so that their marriage gets postponed, at least till then.”" - Sathish Kumar, Kabaddi Coach
Like 12-year-old Shashvitha, most of the girls here want to join the police force, break gender stereotypes, transform their villages and encourage many more girls to participate in sports.
No Shoes, Barely Enough for 3 Meals
So far, Sathish has managed to borrow money or get donations from well-wishers and taken the girls to tournaments in neighbouring districts. However, most of the times, they have had to cancel their plans due to lack of funds.
While some girls got sports shoes and jerseys from a donor four years ago, most of the girls train barefoot in their home clothes.
No income, no shoes, no training gear, and no extra nutrition – nothing has stopped the girls from sweating it out on the ground every single morning. Upset over not being able to go to school, it is kabaddi that is keeping their spirits alive.
“When we go for matches, we see that all the other teams having energy drinks. All that our girls get are regular meals. Parents are unable to provide them with special drinks or nutritious food. Even three meals a day is a big deal. They are quite thin, and when I tell them to eat properly, they would say, 'No food, sir,'” he said.
Despite all the hard work, they are afraid that they their dreams will be washed away due to lack of funds. They wish to compete all over the country and even internationally, and for that they need your help.
Here’s How You Can Help
This Diwali, your donations can help the girls go back to school, send them for competitions and help Sathish build a sports academy to train many more girls for free.
Your gift, your donation, can secure their future and make a huge difference in their lives.
. Read more on Videos by The Quint.Sunday View: The Best Weekend Opinion Reads, Curated Just For YouNeither Lack of Gear Nor COVID Keeps These TN Girls from Kabaddi . Read more on Videos by The Quint.