West Bengal, which has long tradition of women representing in sports, including Athletics, Gymnastics, Badminton, Swimming, Mountaineering, Cricket and ofcourse Football is really shocked by the incident. National level women football players and Arjuna awardees in women football condemned the incident and showed despair in the perceptible silence of the State Government, which misses no opportunity to champion itself as the champion of ‘secularism’! The Block administration, which had earlier given necessary permission for the match, is now backtracking and showing excuse of law and order issues to cancel the major event.
BDO of Harishchandrapur, Biplab Roy had this answer: We had to cancel the football match because of a possible deterioration in law and order situation.”
“Order Came From The Top”!
BDO Roy explained further, “When I came to know about the local opposition, I referred the matter to the SP and the DM and also the local police station. The order came from the top, that the match should be cancelled and I acted accordingly in the interest of peace and tranquillity and public order,” said Roy.
Villagers however alleged that the decision sided with the radical religious dictum as some local Trinamool Congress leaders sided with them with the blessing of their Kolkata based top leadership.
It was an impotent incident to inspire and boost the morale of the local players, specially the women footballers, by bringing national level players to play in such a remote area.
‘Progressive Youth Club’ of Chandipur village in Harishchandrapur had organised the football match to commemorate their golden jubilee celebrations.
The Club President Reza Razi said that he along with several sports enthusiast of the area had earlier planned to celebrate the 50 years of their clubs foundation ceremony by holding a seven-a- side exhibition Football match on March 14, in the available ground of a local Girls Higher Secondary School.
It had another keen purpose to hold the game at local girl’s school ground, to encourage local women to participate in the games.
Razi lamented, “The women’s football match was to be played between Kolkata-XI and North Bengal-XI.National-level players such as Krishna Das, Sujata Kar, Arjuna-awardee Shanti Mallik, FIFA referee Anamika Sen, the Captain of National Handball team Anita Roy and many others have consented to be play on the occasion. Obviously there was big eagerness among local people, about the match.”
At the last moment on Friday, most probably after a Friday prayer assembly, when the players had started arriving in Malda the neighbouring town, some local Maulvis and a few villagers got together and protested that the exhibition football match could not be organized as it would have adverse impact on the local girls and women folk.
“Some of them raised the issue of the outfits the women players will be wearing and some said that this sort of sport was allegedly against the Shariat,” said the organisers.
“We tried to convince the Maulvis and those who had raised objections. We told them that we are devout Muslims who offer Namaaz everyday…. what was wrong in having a women’s football match in the village?” they argued.
Club President also said that he had also informed the local administration for helps in holding the major event in the area, but the District administration then raised the issue of law and order problem and cancelled the match outrightly.
“They administration succumbed to the pressure of the Maulvis and their Fatwas. We had no other option,” he said in despair.
It can be easily assumed that the order came from above….and from the State Capital.
Where Is The Progressive Tradition?
Bengal is the birthplace of Indian Football. The oldest Football Association in India and was founded in 1893 in Calcutta. Bengal has reached in the Santosh Trophy finals 43 times, and has won the trophy record 31 times (the most by any team).
Bengal traditionally holds highly popular local leagues and played by some of the soccer clubs that are more than 100 years old. It currently consists of six-tier pyramid system. Indian Football Association (IFA) conducts the CFL with 157 mostly Kolkata based clubs and units. Started in 1898, this league is the oldest league in Asia and one of the oldest in the world.
Several football clubs like Mohan Bagan, Calcutta FC, Sovabazar, and Aryan Club were established in Calcutta in the 1890s. Calcutta, then the Capital of British India, grew up as the hub of Indian football. Tournaments like Gladstone Cup, Trades Cup and Cooch Behar Cup were also started around this time. The Durand Cup and IFA Shield were both started in late nineteenth century.
The first Indian team to achieve success was Sovabazar Club, which won the Trades Cup in 1892. Mohan Bagan was set up in 1889. The club became famous in 1911 when it became the first Indian team to lift the IFA Shield, a tournament previously won only by British teams based in India. It defeated the East Yorkshire Regiment 2–1 in the final of the tournament in a victory that is still regarded by many as the greatest win by an Indian team before Independence.
The Yuva Bharati Krirangan, popularly known as Salt Lake Stadium is the second largest non-auto racing stadium in the world and the largest in the continent.
India qualified for the 1950 FIFA World Cup. But lack of foreign exchange, lack of funds , an alternative way of a long sea journey and a compulsion of playing barefoot compiled that the team never made it to Brazil! The team captain was Sailen Manna, who blamed it on Government apathy and lack of resources. The Indian team has never since come close to qualifying for the World Cup
India even picked up the Gold in Football in the first Asian Games in 1951. Till then Indian players were playing barefoot! India beat a “booted” Iran by a solitary goal. In 1956, after having put on its boots, India reached the semi-final in Melbourne Olympics football, the first Asian country to do so.
It stood fourth in the tournament. In 1962, India again picked up the Football Gold in the Asian Games. Other than success in Asian Games football, India also won Merdeka Cup and Quadrangular Tournament while East Bengal garnered rave reviews after its tour of Romania.
Traditionally a majority of top Indian Footballers came from Bengal or played in Bengal. Gostha Paul, Sailen Manna, Chuni Goswami and PK Banerjee, Balaram, Thangaraj, Habib are the legendary Footballers from Bengal who led and fortified the national teams. And the list of Padma and Arjuna Awardees is long, from Bengal’s sports arena.
Though Manipur is now the National Women Football champion, in post 2006 era, many girls from Bengal played for the National team successfully.
In fact the Women’s Football, like the men’s game, also has its early pioneers in Bengal. The major Kolkata teams, East Bengal and Mohan Bagan, started Women’s Club sides in the 2000–01 seasons, and they participated with other teams in the Calcutta Women’s Football League. Though, in the recent years, players from Manipur and Odisha dominate national team, players from Bengal too make up an important part of the Indian Women’s Football teams.
In Nalinakska Bhattacharya’s novel “Hem and football”, Hemprova Ghosh was modeled after the early ventures of Bengal’s women footballers …The ‘Independent’ newspaper of London wrote: Hem and Football is about women football players in Bengal …in each case the sport, simultaneously a refuge, palliative and escape route, ceases to be a sport and takes on a wholly symbolic significance.”
The Bengal Women Footballers Sujata Kar and Alpana Sil became the first Indian footballers to sign a contract outside India, back in the year 2000. They signed with the German team TSV Crailsheim, but had to return without completing their terms, due to problems with their international transfer, and sheer apathy of Indian Government.
The miserable backing of the national Women’s team by the AIFF became quite evident. The team’s trip to Germany was only made possible by Non-Resident Indians in Germany, and by the support of the German Football Association.
Year 1983. The year when India won the first World Cup. Same year, another first of its kind happened, but went unnoticed and unwritten about Bengal’s Shanti Mallick. India’s brightest star of women’s football.
Till date, she became the only female footballer to have received the Arjuna Award. Shanti Mallick, whose name not even registered in the AIFF’s official website till recently.
Shanti Mallick was the captain of the Indian women’s football team that participated in the 1982 Asian Games. Apart from winning various titles at national level, the Arjuna awardee had also played league matches in sports like cricket, basketball and volleyball. Incidentally, she was also the National handball champion in 1978.
Shanti, who played in the golden period of the Indian Women’s Football, with the likes of other star Bengali women footballers , Kuntala Ghosh Dastidar and Shukla Dutta, remembers playing at least 10 international matches a year.
Many of these girls come from middle class or even toilers families, but Bengal’s progressive tradition never put any stigma on the women taking part in Sports.
So, this Fatwa business is a new phenomenon in Bengal.
The local people are quite upset with the cancellation of the match. The villagers are saying it openly. Despite large TMC support base in the area: Are we going back to medieval ages? When the Government claims that it is inspiring the women in Bengal to come forward, such a dictum and Government’s acceptance of such archaic things is highly disappointing for a progressive State like Bengal!”
Shanti Mullick , the women World cupper and the Arjuna Awardee in 1983 who played football between 1976 and 1983 and now coaches budding women footballers at Kolkata’s Rabindra Sarovar Stadium said : I was supposed to go along with the players to participate in the event. It was a purely a sporting venture and the players did not even ask for money. They had agreed to take it as a promotional match. But I just can’t imagine that in the 21st century such a thing could happen,” lamented Mullick.
“We called off our visit as soon we came to know that the local administration is not agreeable to hold the match. Who can take the risk of fielding women footballers in the face of such threats!” she clarified further.
By the way, her Girls’ football academy in Kolkata has as aspirants, a large number of very passionate and promising girl footballers from the Muslim families!
Anamika Sen a former FIFA rated referee, who is now a AIFF match commissioner and instructor was also to go in Malda, to conduct the match: I agreed when I came to know that renowned women players of national and Indian women team players like Rezina Khatun, Nausaba Alam, Sujata Kar, and Minati Das were participating in the exhibition match. I do not know in what kind of a world we are existing! Such a thing could have happened 100 years ago but we just cannot believe that the administration will give into such fundamental elements”.
Under censure from the sports personalities, the Malda District administration has now came out with another explanation. I’s now saying that the permission for the Football match was withdrawn as West Bengal Board’s Higher Secondary examinations had to be conducted!
Surprisingly the local BDO had another version of explanation: The order came from the top that the match should be cancelled and I acted accordingly in the interest of peace and tranquillity and public order”! He reportedly told the press.
The Secretary of Malda District Sports Association (DSA), Subhendu Choudhury termed the entire incident as an “undesirable” one. “Especially when the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been adopting numerous policies for empowerment of girls and women, such a decision of calling off the women’s football match is indeed pretty unfortunate,” he said.
Subhasish Sarkar, another former Malda DSA Secretary also criticised the cancellation of such an important match in the area: We heard of such fundamental activities in countries like Iraq or Iran. But replication of such an activity in a progressive state like West Bengal was incredible for us. It is a pity when women our playing football in a country like Afghanistan, our women are still being hindered by some fundamentalists who are actually taking advantage of lawlessness prevailing in the state.” He lamented.
The Fatwa Factory of Bengal
Local Imam Maqsud Alam was however saying that they did not issue any religious dictum or Fatwa against the match. “When some people sought our opinion, we just said Islam does not permit us to watch women playing in the field wearing short dresses.”
The organising Club however narrated the entire sequence of events to the press.
“Last week, some clerics from the minority community raised their objection to the women’s football match. We had approached the Block Administration and the Sub Divisional Officer for help.
On March 11 a meeting was also held in the presence of BDO between us and those clerics who were against the match. The next day, many more clerics said a women’s match would be against Islam. They also threatened to launch an agitation if the match was held. The BDO then ordered to stop the match.”
Though the issuing of dictums by Bengal clerics is a new phenomenon in Bengal, it’s not a rare incident. And according to social scientists, such things are bound to happen in Bengal amidst the changing scenario.
The largest Muslim seminary in India, the Darul Uloom of Deoband in Uttar Pradesh, which is known for issuing Fatwas often, had issued a Fatwa, five years back, when they dictated that women shouldn’t work with men as it was “un-Islamic”. Deoband clerics also said that according to ‘Shariat’ the women should wear the Hijab (veil) to work and not mingle with their male colleagues.
In 2013, Kashmir’s only all-girl rock band got into controversy after the Grand Mufti of Kashmir had issued a Fatwa against the girls.
According to the cleric: All the bad things happening in the Indian society are because of music. They (girls) should stop from such activities.”
The 2011 Census data clearly showed that in many border districts of Assam and Bengal, the Muslims were in a majority.
The data, which was kept under wraps during the UPA rule , was discussed in September last year, in a meeting between the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Home Secretary Anil Goswami and Registrar General of India (RGI) Dr C Chandramouli.
Muslim population, supposedly many of them of Bangladeshi origin, have increased to a large extent in these areas, In Assam it is 59% in Barpeta, 36% in Cachar, 52% in Karimganj, 74% in Dhubri, 51% in Nagaon, 25% in Kamrup, 54% in Goalpara, 57% in Hailakandi.
In Bengal, the Border Districts have Muslim population: 47% in Uttar Dinajpur, 24% in South Dinajpur, 52% in Malda, 25% in Cooch Behar, 25% in North 24 Parganas and 64% in Murshidabad as per the census.
At the time of partition, the overall Muslim population of West Bengal stood at 12%. Now according to an estimate, it has grown to 27%.
Acceding to the sociologists, a higher percentage of migrant Muslims in the host country can soon translate into Muslim influence of political processes, law enforcement, media, and the economy, as well as restrictions on freedom of movement, speech and religious practices.
The changes are now easily visible.
In 2007, a violent protest broke out in Kolkata against Bangladeshi feminist writer Taslima Nasreen. Rioters blocked traffic, attacked police and journalists, torched cars and damaged public transport buses. The State Government looked the other way. Allowed the rioters go unpunished. And ultimately hounded Taslima, out of Bengal!
The 2010 Deganga Riot happened, in North 24 Pargans, which has majority Muslim Population. A major riot occurred due to construction of a makeshift Durga Puja Pandal in a land adjacent to local Muslim cemetery.
Gradually the issue fanfared a violent mob, which according to various reports attacked Hindu houses, shops and places of worship. Allegedly the riot involved several political leaders from TMC and CPI (M), but parties were in denial mood. Rather called it the handiwork of ‘Hindu Communal Forces’ to disturb the ‘peaceful’ nature of the area! Even National Human Rights Commission’s asking for detailed report on the incident was largely overlooked!
The reality of Muslim vote bank politics whereby a sizable Muslim population votes along the lines, dictated by the local clergies or religious leader, adds to the complication and furthers a religious bias towards a community. Since the Left Front days to present Trinamool reign, Muslims are allegedly given many facilities and added advantage.
Mamata Banerjee Government has made substantial payback in recent times. She approved and validated the academic degrees of 10,000 previously unrecognised Madrasas, sanctioned honorariums for imams and even initiated an exclusively Islamic township. She called for the establishment of Muslim medical, technical and nursing institutions with special subsidies for Muslim students, as well as Muslim-only hospitals. She has favoured Muslims to the extent of distributing free bicycles and rail passes to female Muslim students and laptops to Muslim boys!
This growing phenomenon undoubtedly polarised the voting pattern on religious lines, and helped BJP to gain grounds in the State.
And reportedly Jihadi sleeper cells from across the border spread their network in such a politically hospitable environment!
A Trinamool MP, who was closely associated with the banned radical student group, the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), was running a Bengali Newspaper that later became adhered to infamous Sardha Group. The publication was reportedly radical in nature but TMC had just ignored it.
In this changing scenario, propelled by sheer opportunism and blind vote bank politics, such dictums on Banning Women’s Football in a traditionally known Progressive State, though shocking but not unusual.
Another Land Another Ban
This particular episode reminds me the Plight of Iranian Female Footballers and Female Football Fans, which had come out nicely in Iranian Director Jafar Panahi’scelebrated Persian film: “Offside”(2006).
However, during last year’s Soccer World Cup, Iran’s female football fans have openly defied their country’s baby watching the World Cup in the company of their male family members, colleagues and friends. Women were spotted in Cafes and Restaurants, in the company of men, enjoying Iran’s most popular sport.
By law, such behaviour was illegal.
Men and women aren’t permitted to gather together in public places to watch matches. Women are also banned from entering stadiums.
Iranian authorities imposed the dictum following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, stating that mixed crowds were ‘un-Islamic.’ So, for the past three and half decades, the spectators at all sporting events have been entirely males.
Iranian women were briefly allowed to attend volleyball matches during the Presidency of moderate Mohammad Khatami but the ban was reinstated in 2005 when Mahmod Ahmadinejad came to power.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter has recently told Iran to end its “intolerable” ban on women attending football matches. Writing in the FIFA Weekly in January this year, Blatter called that the situation “cannot continue.”
Iran’s ban was put in the spotlight at the Asian Cup in Australia earlier this year, when hundreds of female Iranian fans watched their team without restriction. At the match against Iraq, activists unfurled a banner showing the face of Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British-Iranian woman jailed for trying to watch a volleyball match against Brazil in 2014, and called for the ban to end.
Blatter wrote: “I raised the topic at my meeting with the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, and came away with the impression that this intolerable situation could change over the medium term.
“However, nothing has happened. A collective stadium ban still applies to women in Iran, despite the existence of a thriving women’s football organisation.
Today there is the growing popularity of ‘Western Asia Football Federation (WAFF) Championship among the Gulf’s Women Footballers. The Women Team participants include: Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Syria and United Arab Emirates.
Today there is the growing popularity of ‘Western Asia Football Federation (WAFF) Championship among the Gulf’s Women Footballers. The Women Team participants include:Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon,Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Syria and United Arab Emirates.
Jordan Women’s Team won the Tournament thrice, UAE twice. Iran was the runner up three times.
Iran has designed special costumes for Female Footballers, some years back, covering their heads, hands and torso, but wearing these costumes they are not allowed to play any FIFA recognised tournament. Iran called it an imperialist conspiracy!
Undoubtedly, the UAE Women’sFootball team has received quite substantial Government backing among all these teams.Currently The UAE team is in Cyprus to gain more international exposure and to play friendly matches with the foreign teams. It hopes to get a FIFA ranking and to become part of the Global Women’s Football and compete for a place in elite competitions such as the Women’s World Cup, to be held in Canada this year.
Things are still tougher in Saudi Arabia. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been repeatedly pressuring Saudi Arabia to create frameworks for Women’s sports. Physical education classes are banned in state-run Saudi girl’s schools and female athletes are not allowed to participate in the Olympics.
Many prominent Saudis, however, including one of King Abdullah’s daughters, spoken in favour of Women’s participation in sports. In 2010, an 18-year old female Saudi Equestrian made history by winning a bronze medal at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.
Saudi Officials had said in recent times that women with families, and journalists could be allowed into the major sport stadiums in such big cities as Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam as a first step to fully lift the ban on female audience.
Dubai Ruler and UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his wife, Princess Haya, have sought to reinforce the UAE’s drive to be a Gulf leader in women’s sports by among other things publicly displaying their equestrian enthusiasm. Also Sheikh Mohammed’s daughter, Sheika Maitha, competed in Taekwondo and carried her Nation’s flag at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Iran briefly allowed women into the stadium during World Cup qualifiers played in the country in 2007, but maintained the ban for all other matches.
But many were not happy. The Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani shot back: Men looking at a woman’s body, even if not for the sake of gratification, is inappropriate. So is the female watching men. Furthermore, Islam insists that men and women should not mix.”
The same kind of utterances are now rising in a State like Bengal, which was at the forefront of many progressive movements, through the recent history.
Anyway, I will tell an entire story next, of the continuous struggle and growth of Female Football in the Gulf nations, specially in Iran!
By: Deep Basu