New York-based Shib Shankar Dasgupta is the idealistic founder of Shreeja India (estb.2017), an NGO working to prevent child marriages, human trafficking and violence against girl children in West Bengal through football-based education and development programmes. Currently, Shreeja provides football coaching to 120 tribal girls aged 10-18 years in 12 villages of the state’s Birbhum district. Part-time tutors also extend remedial academic education to girl children.
History. A chemical engineering graduate of Jadavpur University, Dasgupta began his career as assistant technical director of the Institution of Engineers (India), Kolkata in 1982. In 1996, he moved to Singapore and promoted an IT firm Bizinfo Initiatives. After a decade-long stint (1996-2006) in Singapore, he signed up with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York to pursue a Ph D in science, technology and society in 2007. During his years as an IT specialist, he became aware that the benefits of technology were not reaching people at the bottom-of-the-pyramid and began contemplating “ways and means of using technology to empower the underprivileged”. In 2011 he co-promoted DevKalpna Technologies, a social entrepreneurship organisation specialising in using ICT (information communication technologies) to uplift the poor in developing countries. Over the past decade, Dasgupta has devised several digital technologies to help bottom-of-the-pyramid households increase productivity and incomes, provided micro-finance services and established several rural centres for information dissemination in India.
In 2017, driven by the pathetic deprivation of girl children of Birbhum (pop.3.5 million), a tribal-dominated district on the western fringes of West Bengal, Dasgupta initiated his football-based learning programme for them. “Birbhum is an under-developed backward district where girl children seldom complete primary school before being prematurely married off. A football fan, I realised this beautiful game could be an agent of social change and women’s empowerment. In early 2017, I launched Shreeja to provide football coaching to tribal girl children. Gradually we also began remedial academic coaching for girls and awareness classes on human trafficking, dowry and child marriage,” says Dasgupta.
Direct talk. “Several decades of education reform initiatives have failed to provide meaningful out-of-school programmes for rural girl children. On the other hand, our football-based education programme has produced excellent academic and social results. Football coaching has enabled our girls to become mentally agile and socially confident while improving their academic outcomes,” he says.
Last year, six girl children mentored by Shreeja India cleared the Madhyamik (class X) board exam of the state government — a record for their village. Moreover, those with talent for football are identified and referred to professional football clubs in Kolkata. Early this year, two Shreeja girls were selected to play for the West Bengal junior state football team. Funds are raised through crowd funding, supplemented with grants from the West Bengal government.
Future plans. Dasgupta has big dreams for Shreeja India. “Currently, we have 120 girl children in our programme; our target is 500 within the next two years. We also have plans to start the Shreeja Women’s Sports Academy, a residential sports facility for girl children in rural West Bengal,” he says.
Wind in your sails!
Baishali Mukherjee (Kolkata)