It is 3.00 p.m as children from schools nearby come in small groups, to this common ground at Palangshuguri, a small village in lower Assam. As time goes by, more children gather with their own set of friends. At 3.30 p.m, a strong whistle gets all children to the middle of the ground, who then get into a circle. This will be a common sight in many villages at this hour and this indicates that the ant’’s ‘Sports 4 Development’ sessions have begun.
Haseena, one of many children who form part of these S4D sessions also shows up with her small gang of besties. A shy, fidgety, considerably tall girl and all of 15, suddenly becomes all too strong and forthcoming when it comes to playing the game of ‘Ultimate Frisbee.’And that she is a complete team player is a trait too hard to hide.
She was born in a family of three, with her in the middle and two brothers, one elder and one younger. Her father works in agricultural field, and is married twice, with both wives and the children living together.
In spite of poverty, all three children go to school. Haseena in her eighth grade goes to a nearby government school and her father plans to shift her to a bigger school in Rowmari village, which according to him has better education facilities.
Haseena’s association with S4D project dates back to 2015, the very first year of the project and she has been a constant since then. However the journey was not easy in thebeginning Her father had serious objections to send his girl child to play, while playing with the opposite gender made it all the more worse. “Ours is a predominantly Bengali Muslim community and here, girls are not expected to play, let alone with boys. Initially the society would ridicule her and I was asked to forbid my daughter. Succumbing to pressure, even I tried stopping my daughter from going to these sessions. But she wouldn’t hear and wouldanyway go against my wishes,” says her father.
When asked why she would continue to attend the sessions against so much pressure from her own home, she gave a simple reason. “It is the only place where I can let go off all inhibitions and play without restrictions, which I am subjected to all the time for being a girl. This is where I can be myself and I completely enjoy that,” she says.
The sessions are divided into two phases – games in the beginning and a message or learning through that particular game. “Once, our instructor said that education gives you power to voice out your opinions and hence regular schooling is very important. This message went straight to my heart and since then, I have never taken leave or bunked school! Now I score nothing less than 1st division in a class of 47,” she adds with her chin held high.
Her father affirms the fact that she never takes an off day in school these days. “She never misses a single day at school, since from there she can directly go to play in the S4D sessions. Once she was invited to work as a maid in a house nearby. She plainly rejected the offer, saying that she would only go to school and study,” he said.
Apart from games and messages, the S4D sessions also had some health activities like yoga, which had come handy at times to this family. The father says, “I was hospitalized for 3 weeks, after which when I had come home, the doctor advised me to do some exercise like yoga, along with medication. I had no idea, what yoga means. Haseena taught me some yoga during those days, which did help me in recuperating soon!”
She believes that children have all rights to study and only to study; this doesn’t seem to go well with her family, especially her father. “When I shout at her to do household work as a girl of her age should be doing, she retorts back saying that only studying is her work and she cannot let her concentration divert to other things She gets onto my nerves too much these days!” says her visibly upset father,.
But all is not bad with her father and certainly realization has hit him now.. “Over time I have come to understand that education is very important, otherwise it shall be impossible to escape this poverty. Working in others’ fields and getting a meagre income is not a life I wish for my daughter. Our voices are not heard, because we are considered illiterates. At least let my daughter’s voice may be heard and if education is the route, let her not listen to the society,” he concludes.
After all, change in attitude is not an overnight phenomenon and realization takes its own sweet time. But once realized, it is there to stay in the heart forever.