Connecting with people through football in Jangalmahal

Football tournaments have pushed away the dark days of guns and bullets in Jangalmahal. And taking the lead are the spirited women of Jangalmahal who have been participating in the football tournaments across the districts of Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore.

The women’s football initiative has been promoted by West Bengal Police as part of a public relations strategy. The region, which was once controlled by the Maoist rebels, gradually got rid of the grotesque web of insurgency.

The State police thought it wise to further the peace process by engaging the villagers in positive activities, and football became a major tool in this endeavour. It helped to counter the disenchantment among the locals who warmly responded to the football tournaments.

Women of Jangalmahal, especially in pockets like Bandwan, Baghmundi, Barabazar, Balarampur and Ashra of Purulia district, have been regularly participating in the football tournaments.

Over the time their enthusiasm has touched women in other districts as well — football tournaments are also being organised in West Midnapore and Bankura. The women’s football league will begin in West Midnapore. It has been organised by the district sports body.

As many as 12 women’s football teams from the district are slated to participate in the league. The state government has also organised two separate Jangalmahal Cups for women and men.

A few months back a football tournament for women was organised in Purulia’s Kashipur Assembly constituency. It was an initiative of local legislator Swapan Belthariya. Based on the overwhelming response, the state government decided to set up a women’s football academy at Kashipur.

The construction work for the academy is now underway. Funds and seven acres of land for the academy has been received. Preliminary work of land-levelling has started.

The football tournaments helped the district administration to reach out to the people living in far-flung areas of the district. It helped to build a good rapport with them. They have actually shunned the path of violence and joined the mainstream.

For years, Jangalmahal witnessed insurgency orchestrated by the Maoists. The region had recorded about 350 killings between 2010 and early-2011, but it witnessed none since 2012.

The Mamata Banerjee-led state government also announced rehabilitation packages for the rebels and announced that the entire region would come under the purview of ‘Below Poverty Level’ category so that the villagers can enjoy certain benefits like purchasing rice at a concessional rate of Rs 2.