March 24, 2023

With football, hijab-clad girls break new ground | India News – Times of India

NEW DELHI: For decades, Mohammed Hussain Playground near YMCA at Madanpura in Central Mumbai has been a male domain. Surrounded by skyscrapers that dwarf old bungalows, the dusty ‘tikona’ (triangular) maidan has helped make Madanpura a hub of so many famous football players that it has earned the crowded neighborhood the nickname ‘mini-Brazil’. Unsurprisingly, all the soccer ‘stars’ here so far have been men.
Cut to the present. A dozen or so hijab-clad girls from Madanpura hit this ground thrice a week, learning the game of kicks.
Amidst the raging hijab row, these hijabi girls have kicked out the inhibitions that stopped their mothers’ generation from entering the “male arena”.
Ninth grader Nashra Sheikh plays basketball too. But football is different. “Football teaches us discipline, the value of team work and courage to face challenges. We play wearing hijab and it is not a crime to cover the head while we play with our feet,” says Sheikh.
Coach Zakir Hussain Ansari, who started the girls’ team with 20 (in the age group of 10 and 16) in 2018, is as much disturbed by the hijab row as his students. “I had tough time convincing many conservative parents to allow their daughters to play football. If they are asked to remove hijab, these budding footballers will stop playing. It is not a barrier on the sports ground,” says Ansari who fears that if hijab is banned at schools, it may be banned on playgrounds.
Abida Ansari, an 8th standard student, like her mother, wears hijab and would play football with her brother till she grew older and was told that grown-up girls and boys played games like football separately. “I am fascinated by the role a goalkeeper plays in the football. I want to become a goalkeeper for women’s cricket team in India,” says starry-eyed Abida.
Coach Zakir dreams of sending his girls to district, state and national level matches and tournaments. Though he praises corporator and MLA Rais Shaikh for promoting sports and games ( the P T Mane garden at Nagpada is testimony to it), Zakir blames authorities for failing to meet budding footballers, both boys and now girls, at Madanpura. “It has been five years since the ground was filled with soil. Most of the soil has been washed away in the rains and it will be filled again as the civic elections come near,” he says sarcastically.
MLA Rais Shaikh has promised help asking Zakir to submit the proposal. Meanwhile, Rais follows the dominant view in the community that hijab has unnecessarily been dragged in s controversy. “In hijab or not, girls are good at sports too. They must be encouraged to join sports as they will keep them physically and mentally fit,” says the MLA.
For Sheeza Ansari, who began playing football just a month ago, the biggest benefit of being in sports is it keeps her away from mobile phones. “Excess use of mobile phones reduces concentration while physical activity like playing football gives sufficient sleep and improves memory,” says Sheeza who too cannot comprehend how the issue of hijab has snowballed into such a big row that it threatens to relegate the more pressing issues of pre and post-pubescent girls to the background.

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