Let There Be Light

Many underprivileged girls like Swapna Barman striving to shine on international area from Bengal

Kolkata: Around the time when Swapna Barman, a girl from Jalpaiguri made India proud by winning Gold in Heptathlon at Asian Games, some girls and boys were busy participating in a number of sports activities ranging right from Hockey to athletics to basketball and even rock climbing among other sporting activities in Mullickpur, South 24 Parganas, West Bengal. The common thread that binds Swapna and all other girls practicing is that they all hail from the underprivileged society. The only difference being that while Swapna has left her mark in sports, others from Bengal are trying their best to leave their carve a niche for themselves.

“I won gold in 100 meters hurdles and silver in 100 metres run and will hopefully be eligible for the national level championship,” shared Krishanu Das while his mother sat beside him beaming with pride. Das was waiting with his certificate and a plaque that he had won in athletics at the state level championship.

Kaveri Pradhan is studying in Kolkata and plays hockey for the state along with a few others who are present along with her at the Mullickpur event. Kaveri rues the lack of practice they get even in the big cities. “We need to play more and get a proper guidance. Chak De could be our story,” she grins, referring to Shah Rukh Khan’s film on women’s hockey.

These are the faces that could perhaps make India proud, in athletics and other sports in International Sporting Events. However, at present, it looks like the sole nurturer of their talent is Bharani, a non-government organization (NGO) which has been playing a pivotal role in promoting sports, particularly among the underprivileged a nd from the rural areas of Bengal. Started by Bharati Divgikar, a former basketball player and retired banker from Mumbai, Bharani has not only been nurturing talent but has also been organising matches and sporting activities in and around Kolkata.

Vandana Jhunjhunwala, joined Bharani sometime back and pulled in her friend Samirah Ahmed, a Kolkata based film and theatre personality and former national level taekwondo champion. Both concur that the NGO has a huge potential, particularly because it is encouraging the students towards sports but is also providing them with all the support that they need to hone their skills so that they can compete with the best in the country and take on the world.

And guess what, these kids are putting up tough competition for the sports team belonging to elite schools of Bengal. Their protégés have also participated at the national junior level. What makes things even more unique is the fact that these kids are also, getting all the support to complete their education.

“Bharati had come to immerse her mother’s ashes in the Ganges where she saw poor boys whiling away their time and playing in the dirty waters. She decided to do something for them,” shares Bharati’s friend and co-founder Paramjit Kaur Bhattacharya, who once represented Bengal in hockey and now continues to promote the sport through this NGO, which has a team comprising five women and three men. The team, of course, is led by Bharati.

At their annual function held on Saturday at Bharani’s Shishu Vikas Kendra in Hariharpur village in Mullickpur, South 24 Parganas, Professor Maria Fernandes, member West Bengal Women’s Commission was visibly pleased with so much talent on display.

Anita Roy, a former national-level basketball and handball player associated with the cause says, “We need to push our children towards sports there is so much talent hiding in these remote villages. It’s a great loss to the nation if we cannot nurture them. But we also have our limitations.”

The officer from the Baruipur Police Station, who was present at the event as a guest said, ‘There’s a need for more such organisations to work in the villages.” But the question is will the recent changes in the policy towards NGOs and their funding not be a detriment to those working in this field. But suffice is to say, those compelled by their conscience to give back to society will continue to go the extra mile. Here’s hoping Bengal will produce more sports personalities, particularly women, like Swapna.

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