About 30 years ago, a sage had told Dr. Shib Shankar Dasgupta about the magical mystery of three Tulsi leaves. The fire in his belly made New York-based Dr. Dasgupta start a football academy for tribal girls, Shreeja. His holistic approach in empowering those in the margins have attracted many youths. Beginning this week, we introduce a new column, by Aparajita, every Monday, exclusively in Different Truths.
Long time back, nearly three decades ago, a young graduate from Jadavpur University would spend his leisure roaming around in the mountains, lost in his philosophical excavations amidst the variegated domains of nature. The twinkle of the stars slept in his eyes like dreams waiting to wake up in the sunshine of an applicable reality. It was during this time, he came across a sage who taught him, ‘Teen Tulsir Brata’ (The ritual of three Tulsi of basil leaves). The first one was ‘Don’t leave anyone starving.’ The second communicated, ‘Don’t deprive anyone of medical facilities.’ The third and the final one conveyed, ‘Don’t divest anyone of education.’
Thirty years later, the social media heard the murmur and slowly, the whispers grew into hymns, celebrating the birth of Shreeja. Dr. Shib Shankar Dasgupta, an alumnus of Jadavpur University, based in New York became a name among the younger JU-ians, corporate, football lovers and people from various sectors of life as he started talking about his newly formed football academy, Shreeja. This little girl (read, NGO), he created was born in Siuri of West Bengal and came to this world with a vision:
To empower women using football as a tool for development.
In this case, the journey of empowerment began with some tribal girls of Siuri. The vibrancy of this mountaineer had curved its way through the intellectual and physical architecture of the Academy and the three ‘brata’ became the three pillars of Shreeja.
Dr. Dasgupta’s vision of ‘football as a tool for development’ has its roots in the words of the sage and the three primary areas of focus became:
(2) Health and Hygiene.
It has been proven by researchers from all over the globe that football is one game, which promotes both the cognitive and physiological development of the player along with the development of skill-sets of teamwork, leadership skills, understanding one’s potential and ways to hone ones skills through diligence and application of the cognitive faculty.
So, Shreeja was born to nurture the three tulsi leaves in the environment of football. Playing football requires physical training, which keeps the girls healthy. This again is connected to the adequate intake of food. Arrangements have been made at the academy to provide nutrition to the girls enrolled and under the supervision of a dedicated coach and a very committed team of Shreeja, the girls go through training on a regular basis, each day overcoming impediments to score one more goal. Provisions are there for meals and a basic supply of eggs and bananas which are given to the players after practice. The locals have come forward to help in ways they can. Functioning in an environment where the girls (mostly uneducated) are married off at an early age and become victims of malnutrition, early pregnancy, child marriage and other practices fatal to the development of the society, Shreeja aims to make the dream come true through football. Inspiring the locals, the academy now boasts of the hospitality of a couple who has taken the responsibility to sensitize these girls. The lady prepares the meals and their home serves as a resting place for the visitors. During his visit to India in April 2017, Dr. Dasgupta recounts how he would visit the site almost every weekend and in one such visit, he was offered the local alcohol. This offering ensured his acceptance as a member of the community. The inclusion thus formed brought about more stability to Shreeja reflecting the faith. The locals have started nurturing in his vision.
The third leaf, education is one of the primary concerns of Dr. Dasgupta. Providing books and materials are not enough to provide basic education to the girls. It requires installing among the girls, the desire to study, the urge to score well in their examination and to inculcate in them the skills they learn on the football field. Shreeja aims to devise an alternate mode of teaching which draws the girls to study in the same way they are drawn to the football field. Currently, Shreeja is trying to help 13 girls appearing for their Madhyamik to pass. Twenty-nine books of Basic English, Bangla and Mathematics have been collected for the library. Two sets of jerseys have been distributed. Footballs have come as donations.
People have come forward. Shreeja is waiting for more. The leaves have started growing and soon the barren land of Siuri will become the secret garden of intellect and beauty, where the footballers of Shreeja will inspire more youth to realise their cherished dreams. Dr. Dasgupta inspires with his selfless service.
Photo Credit Sreeja India
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Aparajita Dutta is a writer, poet, social activist and a research scholar. She has completed her M.Phil in Comparative Literature from Jadavpur University in 2015. She has been the contributing author of Tell Me a Story, published by Penguin India. Aparajita has written for other books, magazines, and websites as well. Her interests are football, gender rights, disability, and translation.