Beyond stereotypes

WEST BENGAL: At the age of crawling, she fell into a mud oven used for boiling paddy. Her perplexed parents wrapped her up in a blanket and rushed to a local hospital with a faint hope of her survival. The mishap was scripted by fortune but had a different tale in store. She survived.Facing all odds, the mishap in her childhood and taboos imposed by society in a backward region in the western part of West Bengal, Tarjuna Mondal, now in her late 20s, achieved her goal. Clad in shorts and a T-shirt, Tarjuna, as an empanelled referee of the Indian Football Association (IFA), now ensures that the rules of soccer games are followed by letter and spirit. She is among the regular faces who conduct football matches in Kolkata’s Maidan area. Born and brought up in non-descript Tilakhula village in West Midnapore’s Salbani, once a Maoists’ hotbed, Tarjuna faced taunts flying from all corners on the first day she wore shorts to participate in a soccer match organised by her school. “Hailing from a minority community settled in a remote village, wearing shorts was a big no. Other girls from our community in the area never used to come out of their houses without hijab. When I started wearing shorts, I faced criticism and warnings from those who used to be known as heads of our community in the area. But I was determined to pursue my goal to lead the football team of girls of my school,” recounted Tarjuna, burn injuries on her body. Her father, Taimur Ali Mondal, a marginal farmer, and mother, Sokina Bibi, a homemaker, Tarjuna started nurturing her dream of hitting a soccer field as a Class VIII student.“During tiffin break, I used to watch boys playing football. I, too, wanted to play. One day, setting all hesitation aside, I expressed my desire to the sports teacher of our school. He asked me to join the soccer game with the boys. He was surprised after I dodged and dribbled many of them with my skills,”Tarjuna recalled.

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