Open Field

Football versus patriarchy in West Bengal

In 2018, the photographer Paromita Chatterjee began documenting football training camps in West Bengal run by a non-profit called Shreeja India. The camps are meant to empower women from marginalised communities. They attempt to instil confidence, self-respect and dignity.
Photographs by Paromita Chatterjee Text by Tusha Mittal
31 March, 2022

In the early morning fog, a group of teenage girls in jerseys and fluorescent yellow socks stand in an open field. In the foreground lies a grimy ball and a goal post—its makeshift net newly fixed. In the distance, the girls stand in a line, spaced unevenly, some with hands clasped, seeming unsure about what is to happen, yet leaning in intently. Many are about to play football for the first time in their lives.

This was the scene at the Park Circus grounds in Kolkata when the photographer Paromita Chatterjee visited one morning in 2018. The girls were being taught football as part of a training camp organised by the non-profit Shreeja India, which aims to empower women from marginalised communities. Elsewhere on the field, boys played cricket, others jogged. But the crowds gathered to watch the girls.

What intrigued Chatterjee most was the reaction of onlookers to the idea of girls playing football. She heard disparaging comments from the public—“this must be some commercial”—and saw bewildered, smug expressions. When Chatterjee spoke to the girls on the field, a starkly different narrative emerged. She was struck by their enthusiasm and zeal, “the way they were ready to come to practice early in the morning.” Chatterjee said the contrast between the determination of the girls and the disdain from onlookers compelled her to pursue this as a photography project.

Paromita Chatterjee is a documentary photographer based in Kolkata. She covers gender, identity and the environment. Her work has appeared in Tehelka, The Wire, BBC and Al Jazeera among other publications.

Tusha Mittal is the Coda-Caravan fellow. She has written on politics, development, gender and social justice. Her work has appeared in Tehelka, Al Jazeera and the Washington Post among other publications.