SAFF win: Deciphering the message

SAFF win: Deciphering the message

The resonances of the unprecedented reception accorded to the victorious Bangladesh members of the SAFF under-18 football team still fill the Dhaka air. Calling them 'tigresses', a sobriquet reserved for the country's young women performing heroically in sport events, the residents of Dhaka haven't failed to welcome the players with unalloyed love and warmth. The city has seen such a spectacle on rare occasions. After clinching the stunning victory in Nepal, the under-18 women's team has added another feather to the cap of the country's arena of female soccer warriors. The historic event moved Dhaka on September 21. But merely a single day had passed. The original attitude of a section of people towards women football players became clear.  An annoying situation centring round a landed plot in a Sirajganj village, the plot being a gift from the Prime Minister to the victorious soccer team's member Ankhi Khatoon, was about to spoil the festivity. The incident sucked in the old and confused father of Ankhi. This interprets the real position of women in the country. 

Apparently a similar occurrence of dictating teenage girls' hairstyle at a Chattogram school on September 23 has stunned many. The girls were being coached by a lady teacher at the school preparing them to participate in a 'kabadi' mach. The match was an event of a national-level sports competition. The atrocious part of the incident involved the school head teacher, a woman, objecting to the game participants' hair-braiding. While the students were posing for a group photo, with their hair braided, the head teacher allegedly swooped down on them. She beat the baffled girls up, rebuking them why they had braided their hair. The coach-cum-teacher standing nearby explained that 'kabadi' requires players to remain braided. Because loose or unfurled long hair blocks the player's view. 

This is how the nation's future women players are being groomed to participate in big competitions. The sports promoters in the cities seemingly have little idea about the extent of humiliations and adversities the sports-loving teenage girls in the villages are made to go through. Teenage girls cycling, playing cricket, football, hockey, and games meant for men can pursue their passions in cities without psychological impediments. In villages, girls of similar age dreaming of making sports their career have to face many an adversity. Despite their having serious patrons in their school and college teachers, they are unable to progress much. It's only the groups of young men free of inhibitions and the women's rights platforms who are found helping the teenage girls attain their goals. But when obstructions come from their own families, the situation turns adverse and bitter. The same reality is found when it comes to girls willing to pick careers of music and acting. In those cases, the stubborn and committed girls have only one option open before them: migration to big cities by any means. The SAFF U-18 football geniuses could have ended up being victims of social diktat. They were lucky to find a passage to Dhaka.   

It's really depressing to see the young women, especially teenagers, in Bangladesh thinking twice before joining any traditionally male dominated fun or frolic. In spite of being victims of widespread social discriminations globally, the women and girls in general in the developed countries enjoy a semblance of freedom. Outwardly, and in almost all socio-cultural milieus, they can proudly call themselves liberated. The veiled and chaperoned women in the Victorian England had followed the age of the fiery daughters of French or American Revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many term it a mysterious social aberration. In reality, the Victorian Age women had no leaders. But eventually they learnt to be vocal and voice their legitimate demands to be treated with the same dignity as their male counterparts. At the same time, many indigenous women leadership around the world were found foregoing their higher social positions to avoid gender clashes. These attitudes on the part of the then 'tribal women' nurtured to uphold social harmony, were convoluted by male chauvinism. 

This particular curse crept into society following the males' metamorphosis into enlightened social leaders, a new class, who began dictating the social hierarchy. As had been feared, these self-styled male leaders grabbed the opportunity to enjoy all kinds of superiority. On the contrary, remnants of the sacrosanct norms in vogue in the medieval and pre-medieval communities kept influencing the mainstream life in Europe. Few rulers, however, could command the power to belittle women's social position. It had been seen since the dawn of the Nile civilisation.  The western and eastern Asia remained unchanged in accordance with their age-old social positions evenly shared between males and females. 

The South Asian region still remains an exception. With the sprawling region featuring diverse beliefs and social customs, it stands witness to ever-changing positions of males and females and their relationships.  However, the entry of the forces of modernism into society kept playing the role of a strong catalyst. Unfortunately, the countries increasingly remained stuck to their respective cultural norms, and helped home-grown mores consolidate, as well as external influences gain strength by adopting them in their indigenous ways. All this happened after the British colonials left the sub-continent. Many social watchers say the British rulers were tired of the repeated clashes between the dominant religious communities. After the British had left the region, a new-style male chauvinistic social system in both the newly independent countries, India and Pakistan, began taking root. The third-phase independent country, Bangladesh, adopted the principle of ensuring gender equity. But sections in society tilted insidiously towards misogyny of sorts. This is what reality shows. 

Many hold the obscurant forces lurking in different pockets of society and policy-making quarters at community level responsible for stopping the changes in the country. Most of these forces are, in effect, against change, expediting women's marginalisation. 

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