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Soccer: Red light youngsters go for gold

By Agence France-Presse in Kolkata | China Daily | Updated: 2016-07-26 07:53

 Soccer: Red light youngsters go for gold

Underprivileged Indian schoolboys relax in their dormitory in Ramnagar, south of Kolkata, on Saturday. They are heading to Denmark later this week to take part in the Dana Cup, an international youth tournament. Dibyangshu Sarkar / Agence Francepresse

In a break from training for one of the world's largest soccer tournaments, Yakub Ali swells with pride at the idea of putting a smile on the face of his mother back in Asia's biggest red light district.

"We've grown used to people sneering about where we come from and telling us that our mothers are worthless," says 15-year-old Yakub.

"So this will be a gift to all of our mothers who have to put up with discrimination, abuse and injustice every day of their life in Sonagachi."

Yakub is one of eight sons of sex workers living in Kolkata's notorious Sonagachi neighborhood who are heading to Denmark later this week to take part in the Dana Cup, an international youth tournament.

His Durbar Sports Academy teammates also include youngsters drawn from other slum areas in India's eastern metropolis. They will join hundreds of teams taking part in the tournament which runs from July 26-30.

The tournament in the northern town of Hjorring will include teams of boys and girls from every corner of the globe but few will surely match the raw desire to prove their worth than the Durbar lineup.

The academy is overseen by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a charity organization which works for the welfare of Indian prostitutes and also runs Asia's first cooperative for sex workers.

Treated as untouchables

Situated 40 kilometers south of Kolkata, the academy gives underprivileged youngsters an opportunity to let their hair down far away from the narrow alleys and squalid apartments of Sonagachi.

An estimated 8,000 sex workers ply their trade in Sonagachi which is home to several hundred brothels, gaining it the reputation as the largest single red light zone in Asia.

Smarajit Jena, a public health scientist who founded DMSC, said the boys were routinely treated as pariahs in Sonagachi and often found themselves with no one to turn to when they encounter challenges in their daily life.

"The kind of loneliness that the children of sex workers have to endure is hard to describe. They are treated as untouchables," Jena said.

"Most of them end up dropping out of school because of the stigma so we need something to focus on and bring them back into the mainstream."

Yakub, a wiry center-forward, said he had "cried tears of joy" when the team managed to qualify for Denmark. The cost of the trip is being underwritten by several Indian and international corporations.

"Soccer has opened doors for boys like us to prove our worth," the teenager said.

"We got a taste for victory when we won our league in Kolkata last year but now we are only looking forward."

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