For West Bengal, Football has a special place in the people's hearts. Football started as a sport passed down by our erstwhile colonial rulers, goes head to head with Cricket when it comes to sheer popularity in India, especially in the eastern state. Men and women alike, the game has lovers coming from all walks of life, which is attributed to its humble origins.
In recent years, sports proved to be an equaliser. Both Football and Cricket have witnessed a staggering rise in young women participating in the previously male-dominated sports. While inclusivity is still the need of the hour, efforts are visible as more resources are being readily available to train and hone their skills. An example of this is a residential football academy in North Bengal's Kalimpong called 'Debanjan Share Girls Academy' that promotes women's empowerment by encouraging young girls to play the sport.
Honouring His Son's Memory
The academy is a labour of love for Debashis Sen. His elder son, Debanjan Sen, met with an accident and passed away in June 2011. Therefore, Debanjan's father wanted to honour his son's memory. "My son was an exceptional sportsperson in both school and college, and we thought the best way to celebrate his life would be to do something that was his dream and passion. That's when the 'Debanjan Sen Foundation' was created in December 2011," Sen tells The Logical Indian.
The foundation focussed on promoting sports in schools around West Bengal. It organised various inter-school tournaments that gave exposure to young students. A part of this was an inter-school football competition for girls, discontinued during COVID-19. To promote gender equality in sports, the Debanjan Sen Foundation aims to restart them again.
Football Academy In Kalimpong
In September 2021, the foundation collaborated with 'Share Football Club' in North Bengal to start 'The Debanjan Share Girls Academy' in Kalimpong. It was inaugurated on Debanjan Sen's birthday to encourage young girls to play Football and provide education, shelter and food. In the beginning, around 150 girls came for the trial, out of which 25 were selected. The girls are aged between 14 and 17. "Not just for the local girls, those who do not belong to Kalimpong, their education is also looked after by us by enrolling them into the local schools," says Debashis Sen.
The football field was given to the academy by the locals themselves. Earlier, the girls used to train and go back home. However, the foundation wanted to construct a building with a dormitory facility where they could be looked after to juggle education and sports and provide them with food and shelter. In light of this, a fundraising concert called 'An Evening For Kalimpong' was organised in Kolkata on February 6 to raise money for the endeavour.
It was the brainchild of a young student named Anushka Prakash, who wanted to combine her love for Football and music. Her brother Arjun Prakash and two young musicians, Samara Mehta Vyas and Mehr Babaycon, enthralled the evening with their musical performance. "My daughter, Anushka, decided to hold the concert with a target of ₹ 4 lakhs. In doing so, they ended up raising close to ₹6 lakhs! The extra two lakhs will go to make the hilly football ground suitable for the sport," Husna-tara Prakash, Anushka Prakash's mother who hosted the fundraiser in the city, told The Logical Indian.
Encouraging Girls To Dream Big
The young girls have a strong support system in their family and the football academy. "We have organised inter-school football tournaments in Kalimpong as well earlier. Such competitions have seen girls actively participating in the same, which inspired us to start a residential academy. Therefore, we wanted to establish a structure and organisation to harness their talent. The girls in the region are avid football lovers, and they just needed a push and encouragement to make their dreams a reality," Debashis Sen continues the conversation.
Out of the academy's first team, two girls have gotten the opportunity to play for a football club in Kolkata. Two girls, Dhristy and Kusum Tamang, were selected in the 'Sree Bhumi' Club that plays in the city's women's football league. Looking at the success story, the Debanjan Share Girls' Academy soldiers will be the perfect platform for aspiring women footballers. "The girls selected by us already have amazing skills. As an academy, we are working on honing them further. If not for the state or the country, we would love to see them booking a place in the professional clubs," Sen concludes.