Sixty-one is not an age when you win your first sports medal. But Lovely from Peringottukara in Kerala is part of a team that recently won an inter-district volleyball tournament. “Forget sports, I had earlier not even gone for morning walks,” she says.
For this, Lovely has to thank NA Vinaya, a 41-year-old senior police officer in Kerala who thought of using volleyball as a tool for confidence building among women in rural parts of the state. While interacting with women’s self-help groups, she would come across women without any exposure to sports. “When I mooted the idea of organising volleyball teams for them, nobody was positive,” she recalls.
After several months of convincing, the initiative took off in July 2014. Now, eight teams practise daily in rural parts of Thrissur district. Vinaya roped in the volleyball coach of Kerala Police Academy to train them. Women’s Integration and Growth Through Sports (Wings), set up just for this, holds friendly matches among these teams. On International Women’s Day, it organised a volleyball tournament that saw the Peringottukara team lift the trophy. Shamitha Hameed, a 35-year-old mother of two who heard about the volleyball team through a news- paper advertisement, is now the secretary of Wings, which plans to build badminton courts and start chess clubs. “As of now, we have a fund [of money] collected from members,” says Hameed, “but it is proving insufficient.”
Vinaya has long fought for gender equality. In 1999, she won a case to make government forms asking for details of parents gender neutral. In 2002, she was dismissed after lying down in protest on an athletics track during police games; her demand was that women be allowed to compete in these. Her dismissal was struck down by a cop. The volleyball initiative, she claims, has made playing women “stronger and more confident”.