Indian Women’s League debutants Mata Rukmani FC, who come from an ashram in the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh, aims to promote talented local girls through the game of football. This will be their first foray into the IWL, having won the Chhattisgarh league twice in 2020 and 2022, respectively.
The team includes young girls from tribal areas between the age of 15 to 20; some of these girls have also played in the U-17 Women’s Football Tournament in Kalyani, in 2019. Padma Shri Dharampal Saini, a freedom fighter, had started the Mata Rukmini Devi Ashram in 1976 dedicated to girls’ education and well-being in a state where people in the villages used to believe that educating a girl was a waste of time and money. He took up the challenge to start the ashram with 8 girls and now more than 3000 girls are based in the ashram. Besides several academic achievements, sports were also included in their day-to-day regime, football being one of them.
Dharampal Saini, fondly known as Tauji, was himself an athlete in his early days and when he saw the girls with stamina, he started preaching yoga and then went ahead with other sports such as kabaddi, marathon running, archery, and football. “If my girls can be good in education, they can also be good in sports too. So I encouraged them to play as much as they want, and this is the reason they are representing our state in the IWL,” said Dharampal Saini in a statement.
“In the early days, we used to coach the girls through TV, watching Messi and Ronaldo as we did not have proper coaches, but as the girls started to perform well, we got coaches who helped them to nurture more,” he added. Saini also believes that educating a girl in today’s world is very important, as it helps in the overall growth of the country. “I believe that every parent should send their girl child to school and educate them as they are the future of our country. Once they start going to school, people will see the change in their mentality and behaviour with the outside world,” Saini stated.
Despite existing in the shadows of big cities, and all the odds Mata Rukmani FC vowed to achieve the unthinkable and has found a way to represent them in the national league without having proper facilities in their town. Back in the ashram, these brave hearts don’t have the access to training grounds as well as they don’t have proper boots, diets, fancy kits but that doesn’t stop them to follow their passion for football.