Dare to dream
Not many dare fate, nor will many try to reason with parents; many give in to the social pressure and the patriarchal power structure. “Sport is not for girls, we don’t like you going to ground early in the morning, it is not safe. Stay at home and learn chores.” These are some of the things Sneha Latha’s parents told her when she said she wanted to play hockey.
In India, 64% of the adult population doesn’t play any kind of sport, and only 29% of women have ever played a sport. The social structure in India often hinders girls’ participation in sport or physical activity, while boys are given an unfair advantage over girls to play sports from a young age. A recent study by BCC shows that, for Indians, safety is the most significant issue when it comes to girls’ participation in sports.
Born in a family of four in Chigicherla village of Anantapur District, Sneha Latha did not dream big about the future, as she did not have many role models around her. “The community I came from believed that girls belong in the kitchen,” says Sneha Latha, talking about her childhood. She was introduced to hockey at the age of 11 at her school, and seeing her perform well, her physical education teacher asked her to join the school team.
When Sneha Latha’s parents argued against her participation in sport when she was 12 years old, she stood tall and reasoned with them, taking the help of her physical education teacher to convince them to allow her to play. “It was a tough phase of convincing and negotiating. My PE teacher helped me a lot, I can’t imagine what would have happened if he did not talk to my parents,” she says.
As Sneha performed well, her teacher asked her to attend selection trials being held by the Anantapur Sports Academy (ASA), a sport for development initiative in Anantapur district, in 2013. Her performance got her a place in the ASA Hockey Residential Program, with access to quality education, coaching and sports infrastructure, with boarding and lodging facilities.
There was no turning back from that point forward for the young girl. In the initial year, she made into district and state teams, and played in national level tournaments. “It was a completely different experience. I got to travel to various places in the state and country, interact with other players and learn about the languages and cultures of India. If I never picked up the sport, I would be still in my village,” says Sneha.
Sport helped Sneha Latha to dream big, and create a space of her own in her community and be a role model for other young girls. “I have played 10 national level tournaments to date. Now when I go back to my village, I see a lot of my classmates from school are married. If not for sport, I would be married by now. But the perceptions are changing now, children in my school look at me and a few of my seniors as role models. And there is a change within the community,” says the 20-year-old.
There are millions of girls like Sneha in India who long to play but the rigid social norms and obstacles at every level don’t let them exercise their right to play. Sneha Latha and many other young girls are changing the views of the community. Chigicherla today is an example for a lot of communities in Anantapur – with ASA sport interventions such as Sport for All grants, schools get sufficient sporting equipment and technical support to help children learn. The transformation within the community is bright and radiant. Today, a number of girls and boys are part of the ASA Hockey Residential Program.
Talking about the future, Sneha Latha says, “My coaches left a lasting impression on me. My PE teacher helped me change the course of my life. I now understand what impact a coach can have on the life of a child, that is why I want to be a coach in the future.”
Sneha recently attended Hockey India Level 1 Coaching Camp, and says, “It was a great experience, I can see myself moving in the right direction towards my career goals. I thank ASA for the opportunity."