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How one school teacher’s efforts has helped girls from rural Bihar make it big in sports

Sanjay Pathak is a 45-year-old geography teacher at a government school in Bihar’s Siwan district. In his spare time, he also takes it upon himself to give sports training to the children in his school.

In 2009, when two girls from his school — Tara Khatun and Putul Kumari, both 11 — bagged gold medals in athletics at the Panchayat Yuva Khel Abhiyan in the 800m, 1,500m, 100m, and 200m races, Pathak not only discovered two sporting stars in the district, he also became acutely aware of the dismal lack of institutional support and sporting opportunities for such talent in rural areas.

“When I saw the medals around their necks, I realised the potential in these girls from Siwan’s villages,” says Pathak. So, in 2016, Pathak cleared up the paddy crop growing on some ancestral land he owned in Laxmipur village and set up the Rani Laxmibai sports club.

The club has since earned the distinction of having sent several girls from Siwan to national and State-level tournaments. “Although I am not a sports teacher, I decided I would hone these students’ sporting skills and help them reach international levels.”

Four years on, 25 girls from his club have played at the State and national levels in games such as hockey, rugby, football, handball, athletics, and ball badminton. Eight girls have represented India at international tournaments in football, handball and throwball.

But it was no cakewalk. The girls were routinely harassed. . “Young boys would trespass the ground, throw bottles, and play vulgar Bhojpuri songs.” Village elders taunted the teacher for allowing girls to play in shorts.

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