Since the establishment of the first cricket club in 1792 in Kolkata — the world’s second-oldest cricket club — cricket has come to be a key pillar of Indian culture. Fans see the sport as a religion in India: victories have resulted in public holidays (following India’s World Cup triumph in 1983), defeats elicit mourning and fans of the game revere the players in an almost worship-like manner. In 2011, India became the first nation in the world to win the World Cup tournament on home soil. Yet the sport remains predominantly male-dominated, historically excluding females from participating and even spectating matches. So how is Parivartan, a Mumbai-based program that focuses on engaging boys through cricket, helping reduce gender violence in India?
Domestic Violence in India
Although many aspects of society seem to be taking notable leaps forward, there has been little progress in alleviating gender violence in India. In fact, according to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), India ranked 134th out of 145 countries for gender parity in 2018, down from 130th in 2017.
Although some structural changes have made a difference in politics and the business sector, with 83.3% of legal frameworks that enforce gender equality under the SDG indicator now in place in India, women still face a lot of discrimination in their day-to-day lives. At any hour, between 30 and 40 women are victims of domestic violence, and that is just the documented figure. Sexist views are part of Indian society, so much so that 50.6% of men and an astonishing 54.4% of women believe that there are situations in which justifications exist for a husband beating his wife.
One contributing factor to the elevated figures around gender violence in India is the custom of dowry. Beliefs and customs around dowries have resulted in the treatment of women as an economic burden. For this reason, a woman has to shell out a required sum of monetary compensation in return for bridal acceptance from the groom. Despite outlawing this practice of paying dowries more than 60 years ago, stories still emerge of marital property disputes that end in murder. India’s National Records Bureau reported that in 2020, on average, dowry-related conflicts led to the killing of 19 women, while 1,700 women committed suicide over “dowry-related issues.”
It is these behaviors that Parivartan, which translates to ‘transformation’ in English, is trying to highlight and erase from Indian society. A collaboration that began in 2008 between the Indian Office of the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) and Apnalaya, a small community-based NGO, adopts the model of the U.S. “Coaching Boys Into Men” program and receives funding from The Nike Foundation. Through sports, the program aims to build attitudes and behaviors that end gender violence in India. Young cricketers are encouraged to challenge their views on “eve teasing,” a term that serves to describe the popular and generally accepted ‘boys’ sport’ of sexually harassing women in the streets.
The coaches and mentors in the program act as role models to the younger boys, who in turn develop positive behaviors to take back and share with their community. The program focuses on the idea of empowering women through changing the behaviors of men – achieving gender equality is not possible without changes in men’s lives as well as women’s, as it is more often the men who are committing the violence.
The program runs in local communities and schools, thereby targeting boys from all social classes. The interventions in schools coached athletes from the middle to higher-middle level of economic strata, while the community-level projects takes place in the slums of Mumbai.
Research conducted through a questionnaire showed that the views of participating athletes changed over time. Despite the young age of many of the athletes, their views when starting the program tended to reflect that men are supposed to be “tough, unfaithful and unemotional.” By the end of the program, these perceptions had largely changed.
Apart from the ongoing efforts and trends in India, the idea that sport can serve to drive social change and encourage international development continues to gain popularity across the world, with projects such as Grassroot Soccer in South Africa and Fight for Peace in Brazil. This raises hope that one day, sports participation can play a major role is ridding society of gender inequalities and violence.
– Almaz Nerurkar