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Payal Prajapat – the girl who is breaking stereotypes!

Meet Payal Prajapat—the 12-year-old girl who is blazing a trail and going toe to toe with the boys on the football pitch.

Payal is one of the trainees at a Zinc Football School in Dariba Epicentre and the only girl in the team. It speaks volumes about her grit and determination that despite having to practice with the boys, she is a fierce competitor who is always giving her opponents a hard time on the field.

A powerhouse of footballing talent, Payal, who is a student of Class 7 at the Government Upper Primary School in Sindesar Khurd, is already impressing coaches and observers with her skills. Ask her how it feels to be the only girl in the team and she giggles and attributes it to luck!

In 2017, Hindustan Zinc’s decision to open a football school in her neighbourhood came as a godsend to Payal who saw it as an opportunity to indulge in her favourite sport. She realized that enlisting a few other girls would make it easier for her to convince her parents to allow her to play. She even managed to bring around 3-4 friends but they eventually stopped coming owing to a variety of reasons – from helping their mothers in the kitchen, to assisting their fathers in the fields. Given the predominance of traditional values in this part of Rajasthan, many parents also felt that football was not suitable for girls and discouraged their daughters from playing.

But none of these prevented Payal from pursuing her passion and today she is counted among the best—if not the best—player on the Sindesar Khurd football team. Even as her friends are engaged in household chores, Payal is busy giving shape to her dreams.

Jamuna Lal, Payal’s PT teacher at school who has been tracking Payal’s development, says: “Payal is always enthusiastic about going to the ground, even in this scorching heat. The Zinc Football initiative has opened a whole new world for her and I am certain she will bring glory to everyone.”

Payal’s father, Puranmal Prajapat, who is a driver in HZL, is pleased about his daughter breaking social stereotypes and is a pillar of support for her dreams. “Payal always attends school till 4 pm, and then runs to the playground, and at around 7 in the evening she returns home smiling with tales of the game from the ground,” he gleefully quips.

The Story of a Fighter against all Odds

A primary school teacher, hockey player, a marriage gone wrong, a crestfallen mother and now an AIFF D-Licensed football coach with Zinc Football, 28-year-old Sumitra Meena has lived all the ups and downs of a lifetime in just a span of few years.

As with many girls in the rural areas, Sumitra got married as early as at 17, only to find after a couple of months that her husband is an alcoholic addict. She let go of her studies to look for a job as her husband’s earnings were mostly splurged on liquor. After some struggle, she got an opportunity to join a private kindergarten as a teacher.

Three years on, Sumitra was blessed with a baby boy. However, fate dealt her the cruellest of hands, when one day out of the blue, her son who had just turned 7 fell ill. It appeared to be viral fever, but he never recovered. Wiping her tears, she said that she got separated from her husband that year itself.

Sumitra realised she needs to look for a better job to support her mother who was still working as a maid. Zawar is well-known for its football craze and Sumitra being a native of the region was no different. During her childhood, she along with her sister was among the hundreds who would walk a few kilometres hand-in-hand to watch the celebrated Mohan Kumar Mangalam Tournament held every year at Zawar Stadium.

This time she wanted to follow her dream of becoming a football coach, which would also help her stay connected with children. She applied for the AIFF D-License Coaching Course in 2018 and displaying immense strength of character, passed the examination. Sumitra is now a football coach in Zinc Football Schools. While her mother now cooks only at home, Sumitra is mostly engaged with footballers under the age of 14 years at Pratahpura and Chanawada Zinc Football Schools in the Zawar Epicentre. She has recently registered for her incomplete Bachelors Degree and now, she is focussed on enjoying the bright side of life. “Field jane ka time ho gaya hain. Bacche aate hi honge. Mein chalti hoon”, she smiled and took off.

Three Cheers for Ladu – the wonderkid from Dariba

How often do we see a father’s death turning out to be a motivational factor for a young kid! Well, 14-year-old Ladu Lal Jatiya from Naya Dariba has promised himself ever since to live his father’s dream of becoming a footballer. Lalu’s father, who worked as a labourer in Hindustan Zinc, failed to survive a sudden heart attack a year back.

It took Ladu and his mother (Tipu Bai) several months to begin the process of resetting their lives – they had lost not only a loving husband/father, but also the sole bread-winner of the family. Tipu Bai had no option left except to turn to their farm fields to support Ladu and his three younger sisters.

When Ladu’s father was alive, he would often take Ladu to their neighbour’s home to watch a football match. More than the game, young Ladu was always amazed to see people in that room, passionately and loudly cheering for their teams. Once his father passed away, football became Ladu’s way of remembering his father.

Ladu now wakes up every morning and rides the 6 km from his home on his bicycle to reach the Zinc Football Community Coaching Centre in Dariba. A regular in his training sessions, football is the new constant in Ladu’s life. And Ladu’s coach is very certain that Ladu’s hard work and dedication will certainly one day bring loud cheers for Ladu.