It will truly be a flight of fancy for a group of children from one of Asia's largest red light areas - Sonagachi, situated in the Indian state of West Bengal - as they take a flight to Denmark on July 21 to play Dana Cup, an international youth football tournament.
For the first time ever, these children will showcase their talent outside the narrow, dingy lanes of one of the world's busiest red light areas.
As many as 16 children will represent India at Dana Cup.
Established in 1982, this tournament is one of world’s largest annual youth football competitions in the North Jutland town of Hjorring.
These children were selected by Durbar Mahila Samannaya Committee (DMSC) – an NGO of around 65,000 sex workers in this red light district - which also runs the Durbar Sports Academy.
For Avijit Manna, in his teens, it is a dream come true to play with young players from around the world. “Being a sex worker’s son, we are ostracised by the society. We are not like those normal children who have access to education and basic amenities. This tournament will be a new lease of life for children like us, who live in deplorable conditions in the red light areas,” says Manna, adding, “For the first time, we are being given an opportunity to not just travel abroad but represent our country on an international forum.”
Like Manna, hundreds of children grow up in these brothels of Sonagachi, some having to stay in the same dingy room where their mothers ply their trade. DMSC tries to educate these children and send some of them to its sports academy.
While the entire cost of their stay in Denmark will be borne by the Dana Cup organisers, a fund raiser programme was organised by DMSC, supported by Kolkata-based artistes to help raise the money needed for travel and workshops ahead of the tournament.
“We are so fortunate that authorities at Dana Cup agreed to have us over. The entire cost of stay is being borne by them. For the travel and coaching, a fund raiser was organised and we managed to raise 2.3 million Indian Rupees ($34,000),” said Bharati De, mentor, DMSC. The children were trained for over two months at a DMSC facility on the outskirts of the city.
“While most privileged children have access to good turfs, jerseys, shoes besides other sports gear, these children rarely manage one square meal for themselves. But the spirit in these children is at par with that of any child in any other part of the world. Since they will be representing India in the tournament, we trained them at our Baruipur home turf. A part of the money collected through the fund raiser was invested in providing them with good meals,” said coach Biswajit Majumdar, who will be travelling with the team of 16 besides the team manager to Denmark.
The children are confident that they will be able to win laurels for the country. They leave on July 21. The tournament begins on July 25.