New Delhi, Sep 17 (IANS): Afghan girls have left behind years of strife and torment under the Taliban rule. They feel liberated to even play football out in the open unmindful of the repercussions.
The Under-17 girls of Kabul's Rabia Balkhi High School came to Delhi to play in the Subroto Cup football tournament, breaking all barriers, risking parental disapproval and ostracisation.
The girls are aware of the volatile ground realities back home, but they are not scared of dealing with the situation.
Zrafchan Nimiy, a ninth class student, who also doubles as the team's spokesperson, said that she and her team mates are not scared of the Taliban.
"When I was a kid I used to be very scared to even step out of my house. But now we have democracy and there is police. The players in this team are not scared any more. We believe in our police; they have assured us that they wouldn't let anything happen to us," Nimiy told IANS.
"Football for us is a way to forget the nightmarish happenings not long ago and also what is still happening around us. For me personally, I just love the sport."
Asked how their parents look at their pursuit of playing football, she said:" First it was a straight no, but thankfully the coach came and spoke to them and they agreed. People who earlier used to shun any activity of this nature are today wishing us well."
However, the Taliban is not the only problem for these girls. The lack of infrastructure, gear and basic facilities like grounds have not helped their cause. There are three cities in the country where girls play sports -- Herath, Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif. With no proper facilities for the girls they have to make do with what they have.
It all started in a small way when the girls found a ground where NATO forces were stationed to play and, that too, in a corner. There was no one to encourage the girls. In fact, they were told that football was not for women.
The women got the NATO field to practise only after President Hamid Karzai got it for them after he was impressed by their spirited showing against Pakistan in a friendly game. Now, of course, the national team has started going overseas to train and compete. Things are happening, even if in a slow motion.
"It is very difficult to play. We don't have proper football field or equipment to play in Kabul. We have to play on concrete and that area is also very small," Masoumeh, midfielder of the team, told IANS.
"There are three schools in Kabul that have U-17 women football teams, but the boys always get precedence. We are not allowed to play in parks and can't even step out of the house after eight."
The girls though feel a little help from the government back home would go a long way in improving their football standards.
"We have to buy everything ourselves. We know there are more pressing matters for our government but it should pay a little attention to sports as well. They should provide us with equipment and maybe help us get a sponsor," said an emotional Masoumeh.
Football is not the only thing these girls are interested in. Zrafchan, who is visiting India for the second time, loves Bollywood and has picked up the Hindi language by watching movies.
She says the next time she is in India, she would like to go and see all the super stars in the Mumbai film world.
"Next time I visit India I want to go to the place where all the superstars stay."
"I am a huge fan of Salman Khan. I have seen 'Tere Naam' 10 times. I just love Bollywood."
Things are changing for the better for the Afghan women. Whether these girls would go on to make it big in the sport is a different matter. But they have certainly opened the door for the future generation of sports women.