The year long journey for 37, 000 underprivileged girls in India culminated with the “Toofan Games” in the city of Hyderabad a few weeks ago. The word “Toofan” in Hindi means “storm”. This storm has been building since last January in over a dozen locations throughout India as these girls began their first ever exposure to sports for girls. The journey took them through various sporting events that focused on elements of multi-sport skills, nutrition, muscle and body composition. These experiences afforded them the seed knowledge of what it is like to be an amateur athlete and participate in a sporting competition.
The 120 out of the 37000 girls that demonstrated the strongest athletic potential were then chosen to come to Hyderabad to compete in the final “Toofan Games.” These girls travelled from all over the country and competed for two full days of sports. The athletic ability demonstrated at these games was extremely impressive given that the girls only started playing sports twelve months ago. The top finishers came away from the competition with medals and each athlete came away with a certificate of participation.
But, one of the most treasured rewards for each participant was a water bottle.
During the awards ceremony, I was sitting on the ground beside a girl named “Anu” who came down from Darjeeling, 2000 km and a 48 hr train ride away, to participate in the games. Although her first language is Nepali, Anu does understand some English. She received her water bottle in a box and returned to the carpet. I asked if she could open up the box and show me what’s inside. She proudly pulled out a bottle and noticed the logo for the games on her bottle. But it was only when I asked her to turn her bottle around to the other side that her whole face lit up with joy! Written in large gold letters was her name: “Anu”; this bottle was for her and her only.
The Real Meaning of Sports for an Underprivileged Girl in India
There are a multitude of benefits of participating in sports common to individuals around the world that include enhancing, for example, one’s fitness levels, increased muscle strength and endurance, mental strength, and being part of a team. The Toofan girls are definitely benefiting from all these gains but for underprivileged girls in India, there is a more unique meaning in their sporting experience.
To understand this unique meaning we must first understand what life is like for these girls. For the very first time in India, The Teenage Girl Report (TAG) published by The Naandi Foundation in 2018 asked the question: “What does it mean to be a teenage girl in India today?” Among many other key statistics, the report lists the challenges of everyday life for the majority of girls including, accessing clean water; toilets; and necessary nutrition for strong growth. In other words, their daily life revolves around water, food and basic needs. But they are also responsible for the daily needs of their family around them; as the household chores and responsibilities lie on their shoulders above all else. When asked if boys have more of an opportunity to pursue education and more opportunity to work, over half of the girls replied with a resounding “YES.” So, it seems like from the moment these girls enter their teens, their responsibilities to others is priority.
For the first time in their young life, at the “Toofan Games” these girls are participating in an event that is for her and her only.
Every part of their journey and their experience was about them as an individual. To begin, the girls travelled to the event by train, at times travelling for up to 48 hours! But, it was their ticket and their seat on the train, it was reserved for them. The girls stayed in a hotel during the Games and had a shared room with a bed and a bathroom. All the food was provided as the girls simply walked down to the restaurant for their breakfasts and dinner. For one of the first times in their life, their needs were taken care of for them.
At the sporting event itself, each girl received a welcome package that included their bib number and their competition heats. All items had their name on it, it was for them and them only. For each competition, they were placed in their own lane to compete and their results were obtained. The medals that many of them won were for their own personal achievement.
What is the significance of this?
The message communicated loudly and clearly through this sporting experience, is that these girls are special, their needs are important and they matter. Sports is giving these girls the opportunity to understand that they can accomplish something on their own, they have their own talents and they are recognised. In a very fun way, they are empowered to experience things for themselves and to control their own growth. In a life that oftentimes revolves around the needs of others, sports is giving them a glimpse of their own needs and abilities; offering the beginning of controlling their own growth. No doubt, their water bottle will follow them throughout their journey.