Here's how a collective is using football to empower women and bring unity in India’s largest Muslim ghetto

Over 100 girls participated in a football camp hosted last year by ParchamSiddesh Raghavendra/Parcham

  • A collective called Parcham is using football to empower women and bring equality in India's largest Muslim ghetto — Mumbra.
  • However, India's new citizenship laws have been a huge setback to the work that Parcham has been doing.
  • "There is a need for us to build solidarities and get to know each other a little bit better," co-founder of Parcham, Sabah Khan, told Business Insider in an interview.
Football has often been acclaimed as a powerful tool for unity and healing the world. In suburbs of Mumbai, a collective called Parcham is trying to use that magic to empower women in India's largest Muslim ghetto — Mumbra.

"We use football to engage with adolescent girls. Through the game, what we're trying to do is, break the stereotype around how people expect girls to be," said Sabah Khan, co-founder of Parcham, in an interview with Business Insider.


Football camp hosted by ParchamSiddesh Raghuvendra/Parcham

However, India's recent citizenship law, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), isn't making work easy for them. Khan believes that it's widened the divide between the government and the Muslim community.

"It has been a huge setback to everything that we've been doing," she said. "We are trying to get past the disillusion that the community has with the government. Off and on things are said — like 'we're secondary citizens', 'no-one's going to be listening to us' and stuff like that."

Football practice in MumbraParcham


Currently, one of the collective's main tasks is to find clarity on where elected officials stand on the rollout of the National Population Register (NPR). They have been participating in protests and meeting with officials, but there's no denying that CAA has already had a detrimental effect.

"It reinforces the notion that 'we are really not wanted' and 'this is how the country sees us' [among the community]," said Khan.

Women have common aspirations — irrespective of religion
When Khan decided to introduce the football initiative in Muslim ghettos, there were other options on the table — some girls even suggested playing cricket or kho-kho. However, at the end of the day, only football made the cut.


"Football is a means for us to further what we stand for. In that way, football is a team game. It means that everyone is out there together and no one is waiting for anyone else to get run out and leave the field," she explained.

Football campSiddesh Raghavendra/Parcham

Parcham primarily reaches out to pre-adolescent Muslim girls but encourages Muslim and non-Muslim girls to play together. Over time, the collective found that their aspirations have a lot in common, irrespective of which religion they followed.

"The kind of atmosphere that the country is going through, there is a need for us to build solidarities and get to know each other a little bit better. In the absence of this kind of interaction, it's a breeding ground for all kinds of prejudice and bigotry," said Khan.

Siddesh Raghuvendra/Parcham

Laying claim to public spaces
Football is also a way for girls to feel more confident about themselves. Just the simple act of leaving the house to participate in something different is the first step towards an independent life, according to Khan. The idea is to lay claim on public spaces, access to which has been denied to women, particularly in the marginalised sectors of society.

"Even in a city like Mumbai, which is cosmopolitan, in public parks you rarely get to see young girls play with mostly boys having access to the grounds," Khan pointed out.


Football practice in SionParcham

However, that's easier said than done. In the beginning, playing in an open field meant getting harassed and leered at. But the band got together and successfully petitioned the electoral representation to allocate a ground specifically for girls so that they can play in peace.

Now that field is being turned into a sports ground, which could make room for other sports as well.