Daily Archives: June 16, 2018

Fear, Foothpaths & Football- Mary Fights Back With Her Love For The Game

Born and raised in Mumbai’s Matunga, Mary has been living on the streets with the threat of eviction looming over her life from a very young age. Despite being eligible for rehousing, everyday poses a new fear. Amidst the odds of no permanent home, looking for new homes everyday – one day living under a tree and then next day some place else, changing schools based changing locations, poor access to nutrition and basic hygiene, Mary, through her love and dedication for football, made her way to becoming a football ranker in Maharashtra, and dreams of representing India one day.

Here’s the story of Mary Prakash Naidu whose kickoff with football gives her hope for a life off the streets, someday.

A life no less ordinary

17-year-old Mary Prakash Naidu is no stranger to fame. As one of Maharashtra’s top 20 female footballers, she has been playing for the Mumbai District Football Association and taken part in many tournaments so far. In 2017, she was felicitated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi during the FIFA U-17 World Cup as part of the Centre’s Mission 11 Million Programme, an initiative to encourage football playing in schools. Mary had the best record in ball dribbling and shooting (only 13 seconds) at the trials for this event. She also got to meet her favourite player Sunil Chhetri.

The press flocked around us after the event. Some ministers reached out to us and assured help, but it has been months now and there has been no change in our situation,” says her father Prakash Naidu, a contractual staff working with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.

The state at home

The street on which Mary lives. The bamboo poles on the right are what is left of her home in the face of yet another eviction.

The ‘situation’ is the state of homelessness and deprivation that the family has been facing for years now. For over 20 years, the family has been living on the streets in Matunga (Mary was born here), with the threat of eviction looming large over their life, even though they possess documents before the state cut-off date that make them eligible for rehousing. “I am not at ease even when I am playing. I keep thinking of my father at work, and my mother and two sisters alone at home. What if the bulldozers were to arrive?” she says.
Before the felicitation, Mary recalls the detailed rehearsal and the way they were instructed on how to receive their prize. “I was very excited and a little nervous,” she said. No one at the event, however, spoke about the challenges being faced by the likes of players like Mary, their state of housing, or the demand for and lack of playing spaces.

Evicted at will

On the day we meet Mary, the family has moved all their possessions from their makeshift structure to a spot beneath a tree nearby—there has been talk of an impending eviction again.

Mary huddles near their household possessions with her mother and sister

These threats have rapidly increased in frequency in the last eight years. “We have lost too many things to repeated evictions already,” says Mary. Two trophies stand gleaming, and Mary points out that these are just the few they have been able to save. “During an eviction, we lost a bagful of my trophies. My standard X books and certificates were also taken away,” she said. A wall of their house, comprising of a flex printed and bound with narrow wooden boards, flaps and falls face-down in the breeze. It’s a gigantic poster announcing Mary’s felicitation by the Prime Minister.

One of the walls of Mary’s house, a flex poster celebrating her felicitation. The walls around the neighbourhood are full of such posters about Mary.

Making room for play

Mary was introduced to various sports—karate, football, hockey, and boxing—about six years ago. Her interest in football grew as she got to know more about the game. That was about two years ago. At that time, there was only a boys football team in the area and she joined them. As her interest in the game developed, her practice sessions grew longer and she started playing at the nearby Khalsa College grounds every now and then with the support of a non-profit organisation. ‘’We play in between the houses often, as it’s not safe for girls to venture out here and there. Due to the lack of space the football gets spoilt easier; often it enters someone’s house, smashing into some items, and we get a round of scolding. No one’s ever stopped us though,” she smiles and says.

Mary enjoys a game of football whenever she can.

No respite from daily woes

There are no water facilities in the area. A few taps existed earlier but they have now broken, forcing the families to walk a long distance, queue up for water and carry it back. A pay-and-use public toilet nearby is accessed by the community. No formal electricity connections exist here either. Some tapped lines provide temporary relief. “We placed forward our demand for housing and a playing ground for the children. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis even sent a letter about our housing situation to the concerned ministry, but life is still the same here,” says Mary’s father.
Given their state of housing, Mary finds it difficult to study. Sometimes she sits under a tree nearby and tries to concentrate, but it’s very difficult to study for more than half an hour to one hour without getting interrupted. What hasn’t helped is the number of times she has needed to change schools, based on the changing fortunes of the family, and the help they have received from others. The family’s diet is also sparse. “As an emerging football player, she should get nutritious food. But how will I be able to afford it,” rues her father.

Where Children Play Football

From boys in juvenile homes breaking the shackles of a life of crime, girls in Jharkhand fighting gender inequality and child marriage to children choosing a life off the street, the rise of football in India is changing the lives of girls and boys alike. With the upcoming FIFA World Cup, one can’t help but mirror the mood of young footballers across the bylanes and beaches of India, as they await this years most popular sporting event.

In a country where cricket is a religion, will India ever learn to love football? Here are images of children across India, a large population of the millions of followers across the world, who exemplify just how much the country loves this sport.

In alleyways and bylanes

Photo Credits: Outlook Traveller

On streets…

Photo Credits: Unknown

And off the sidewalk

Photo Credits: Chandan Khanna

Outside shops..

Photo Credits: Saumalya Ghosh Photography

And inside school.. 

Photo credits: Project Khel

On the beach

Photo Credits: Jisan Flickr

And off the railway tracks…

Photo Credits: Unknown

Outside abandoned homes..

Photo Credits: Better Photography

And temple walls

Photo Credits: Unknown

Under the sun..

Photo Credits: BBC

And a cloudy sky… 

Photo Credits: Unknown

On railways tracks… 

Photo Credits: Unknown

And on the field…

Photo Credits: Diwakar Prasad/Hindustan Times 

In conflict zones

Photo Credits: Mukhtar Khan/AP

And in hilly areas …

Photo Credits: Unknown

In shorts

Photo Credits: Ayanava Sil Photography

And skirts…

Photo Credits: Yuwa

And in robes…

Photo credits: The Flapper Life

With friends..

Photo Credits: Better Photography

And teammates..

Photo Credits: Tanzeel Ur Rehman / Cover Asia Press

Simply, for the love of the game. 

Photo Credits: Shoumik Kar

From The Streets To the Street Child World Cup- In Conversation With Footballer Kannandos

More than 200 young people from across the world headed for Moscow in advance of the World Cup 2018 to play football and speak out on street children’s rights at the Street Children’s World Cup. Amongst them was Kannados Dasaradhan, a young boy from Chennai, who ran away from home at 7 years and made his way back to a life off the streets, with the help of his favourite sport – football.

In conversation with young Kannandos, whose ultimate goal wasn’t only a trophy, but getting off the streets, expressing how sports and a level playing field are effective goal keepers for some of the most stubborn social problems across the world.

1. Tell us about your life. What was it like back home when you where younger? Why did you run away from home?

I was the first born child to my parents in Vaniambadi, Vellore. I saw a lot of violence and abuse at home. My father was an alcoholic and physically abused me frequently. The repeated quarrels between my parents affected my studies. I lacked interest in studying or going to school. Severe thrashing and verbal abuse by my father, and teachers at school, forced me to runway from my home when I was 7-8 year old.

2. Where did you runaway? What was life like on the street? How long did you spend living at the Railway station?

I boarded a train without buying a ticket and did not have any clue where I am going. I was just a small child alone and hungry on the train. Tired and exhausted I was looking out for something to eat and was given only leftover food from the railway pantry. If the cops or railway officials found me, they would kick me out of the train or use me to clean toilets and train floors. I was unable to say no to them. After reaching the Chennai central railway station, I continued my life on the railway platforms for 6 months…I was generally beaten up by the police for traveling without a ticket.

3. Narrate some of your experiences while living on the street and how you dealt with it?

As the police used to beat me occasionally, I disliked the railway station and roamed in and around it. Then I travelled in a train without a ticket and got down at Arakkonam junction. I hunted for jobs around the place, asked people whom I met, and finally I got the job of cleaning tea glasses with a tea shop near the railway station. I earned Rs.10 as a daily wage. After collecting Rs. 40 over four days, I moved on to Jonnarpet junction.

4. Who were your friends at the time? Were there any people you could depend on?

I made friends with a lot of children like myself, Pratap, Ravi, Balaji who were working to make a living – they were fruit sellers, chips vendors and drinking water packet vendors; I became associated with a group of children who were involved in stealing iron scrap. I was never dependent on anyone… Once I got my share of what we had stolen, I went my own way.

5. What made you move from your life on the street to a shelter home?

During a terrible monsoon in Chennai, the railway station got flooded, but I had no choice but to live at the station. The trains were not moving out, nor were they coming in…the station was almost at a standstill. This was the time when a volunteer from Karunalaya approached me and spoke to me. I got convinced to go along with the volunteer to the Karunalaya shelter. On reaching the shelter, I slept for the entire day…something I hadn’t done in a long time. I felt a sense of security that day.

6. How did you get convinced to go to school? How did life change?

I was counselled about the importance of education and motivated by the people at Karunalaya about the merits of attending school regularly. Though I was scared about how I could be punished at school, I decided to start going anyway. On a couple of instances, I was beaten by my school teacher and as a result, started bunking classes. I came back to Karunalaya, complained to them and refused to go back to school. I was counselled further on why attending school meant I had a future off the railway station. At first I struggled to be attentive in class from but later I grew interest in my studies and completed my 12th grade, and a course in Radiology. From stealing at Railway stations to feed myself, I now had an education degree. Life changed completely.

7. When did you play football for the first time? Describe how you felt that day?

I was enrolled at the Karunalaya Sports for Development Program in the year 2013 for the first time. At the time I felt unhappy because I had to run 10 laps during warm ups which was a difficult task. After I started playing the game of football all my unhappiness and irritation was relieved. Gradually, I took a keen interest in football…I began to love it!

8. How did you get access to a football field? Who trained you? When did you realize that you want to grow up and play football?

Many children at Karunalaya were preparing for the Street Child World Cup 2014. I too was selected for the same, and got access to the football field frequently, to play. I was coached by Mr. Aldroy, a licensed coach. It was while I was watching the India Super League, that I was even more inspired to play football. The eminent players at the ISL made me dream of becoming the super man of soccer someday.

9. Where is your family today? Do they know of your accomplishment of making it to the Street Child World Cup?

I have lost both my parents. I am alone with my younger brother who stays at Karunalaya. My younger sister is being taken care of by my grandmother (father’s mother) and she lives in my native place Vaniyambadi. Yes, my brother and sister are aware of my visit to the World Cup.

10. Tell us about your journey with football and how you got selected for the Street Child World Cup. What was it like going to Moscow?

My interest in football grew after I was put face to face with the sport at Karunalaya. I took to the field and acquired the relevant skills to improve my game. I was made the Captain of Team India that participated in Street Child World Cup– 2014 at Rio, Brazil. It was a great achievement. I realized that hard work and perseverance always yields results. I was then invited by Street Child United, a UK based organization, to participate as alumni at the Street Child World Cup 2018 in Moscow, Russia. It was a wonderful experience to meet the former street children around the world. We shared our valuable experiences and stories. We also interacted with the British ambassador for Russian embassy, a true privilege. My journey in football has changed my journey in life.

11. How has football changed your life?

Football enabled me to identify with my life problems and sort them out. Through football my life style was changed and improved. It motivated me to strengthen my mental ability to achieve something in life.

12. Who is your favourite team / football player? Why?

I love the Brazil football team… it’s my favourite! Their playing style and commitment is unmatched. My most favourite footballer is Gilberto Silva because his story is extraordinary – he came from a poor family and went on to represent the Brazil team that won the World Cup! I was also lucky that he watched some of the matches I played, and gave tips on how to improve our game, how to play as a team and be organized in tackling the opponents… which was invaluable advice!

13. Who do you think will win the World Cup this year? Why?

I think that Germany will emerge as winners this time, because they have individual skills and team coordination which is very important to give your best in the international arena. In my view, they are the best today.

14. What do you want to be when you grow up?

One day, I want to represent a reputed football club.  After my football career I want to become a “D” licensed coach. At present I am working as a child rescue staff of Karunalaya. So far I have rescued 300 runaway children from the Chennai Central railway station. I have coached the team India girl’s team that participated in Street Child World Cup -2018, Moscow, Russia, and am also coaching street children who have interest in football.

Kannandos at the Street Child World Cup in Moscow, Russia, 2018 as Coach to the Girl’s Team