In Mumbai, there is a dearth of playgrounds and more so for girls and women. The young girls of Shivaji Nagar in particular, have had the odds stacked against them – with gender and social norms restricting their education, their movement, their attire and every aspect of their lives.
On 17th January, the fourth Khula Aasmaan tournament final took place, where 40 girls from Shivaji Nagar, M East Ward Mumbai participated. Khula Aasmaan is a Kabaddi-based Life Skills programme run by Apnalaya that, over the last 3 years, has helped nearly 400 girls break gender barriers and claim public spaces.
Most girls in the programme stepped onto the playground for the first time in their lives when they entered the programme. What would be a part of a privileged child’s daily routine is a huge battle for these girls.
One of the biggest barriers involved convincing families, particularly fathers and brothers, to allow their girls to play. Apnalaya’s intervention, therefore, involves parents, community leaders and schools, to open mindsets and change perceptions in the community about what girls can and cannot do.
“The programme is great, we finally have the opportunity to play. At first our families were hesitant, but as the members from Apnalaya tried harder, our families were convinced and now everyone’s very happy,” said Safia, a 19-year-old girl from Shivaji Nagar, who has been part of Khula Aasmaan for two years.
The community’s acceptance and encouragement of the event underlines how Khula Aasmaan as a programme has helped the young girls of this area rightfully claim open spaces. This year, we also had around 50 alums coming to witness the tournament.
The Chief Guest at the event was Mr Tim Hall, the Vice Consul of Australian Consul General in Mumbai. “Every year I come and I am always impressed with how fierce, tough and fast the girls are. We hope to continue this relationship with Apnalaya through the years,” said Mr Hall.
The guest of honour was a local councillor, Smt. Shaera Khan. “I’m so proud that girls from Shivaji Nagar are playing a sport like Kabaddi. You girls can be athletes like Sania Mirza and PT Usha,” commented Smt. Khan.
“To get the girls to come here and play was difficult but once we managed that, the girls and the parents are happy. All the girls from the basti deserve the opportunity to come and play! The doors will always be open for any girl, like how the skies are open. (Khula Aasmaan),” said Noori, who is a mentor to the girls and who was part of the programme in its formative years.
“Khula Aasmaan was launched to address issues like high rates of dropouts and lack of access to open spaces. Kabaddi provides the girls with an opportunity enjoy, learn and express themselves. They are the epitome of grit and determination who reinforce our belief in the work we do,” says Malathy Madathilezham, Director, (Education & Livelihood) at Apnalaya.