DVijay Barse, dressed in a blue collared shirt and black pants, could very well be just another person you meet. What is striking about his clothing is the whistle ribbon he wears around his neck.
The founder of ‘Jopadpatti Football”, popularly known as “slum soccer”, he has been involved in the rehabilitation of slum children since 2001.
Vijay was born in Nagpur on May 2, 1946 and spent his academic life studying at the Missionary School in Bhandara while his father, who is in the police force, was constantly moving from one place to another. After completing his schooling, he enrolled in a physical education program in 1967-1970 and after a year of education he joined Hislop College, Nagpur.
Speak with The better India, he says: “Back then, physical education meant athletics. One was asked to run around the field, swim in the local lake, and then wrestle in the local lake Achada (Arena). That pretty much summed up the sports training. Sports like basketball, soccer, table tennis and badminton were all townspeople games.”
A clear urban-rural divide
Vijay recalls sitting on the soccer field as a college student and watching others play. “We, the villagers of us, would never be allowed to play the game. We were always the ones who sat on the edge and watched the others play. Sometimes when the ball was kicked out of the field, we’d run to kick it back in. That was the only connection we had to the game.”
That was all Vijay could call his “training.” In addition, he never had the chance to play and develop his interest in the sport. None of this deterred him, however. In 1969 handball became a popular sport in India and he decided to do it. “I made a name for myself and started representing the state. In 1973 I was a national handball player.”
Vijay says that after winning many awards in sports, he went to college as a physical education teacher, where he taught all the games. “It was important as a coach to have practical knowledge of all sports,” he notes.
He recalls that when he first came to the city, he was well aware of the problems faced by people from villages and smaller towns, based on his own personal experiences. So he made it his mission to help students from similar backgrounds whenever he could. “Sometimes they needed money – for a meal or to buy a pair of shoes or clothes. Sometimes they just needed help to make a phone call and talk to their family at home,” he says.
“Even though I didn’t have a steady income, I found ways to make a difference. When I became a teacher and started receiving a salary, I had absolutely no excuse not to help,” he says. He also organized medical camps or blood donation camps, he adds.
A social mindset
The idea of slum football was born at a bus stop next to the college football field. “Every day I saw the children from the nearby slums buzzing around the bus stop. They would sometimes indulge in pickpocketing or grab a passenger’s bag and run away. It was disheartening to see this. In the afternoon they returned to the college grounds and the bag was often tossed around and left torn and tattered,” he says.
If Vijay managed to find some important papers lying around, he would find the owner and return them. However, he felt sorry for the children who did this. He wanted to do something to stop them stealing. “The salary I received was more than enough to support my family. I decided to use the remaining part to make a difference,” he says.
He continues: “It was a rainy evening and when I returned home I saw a group of children playing soccer with a broken bucket on the hockey field. Each of them seemed to be enjoying the game. There was so much camaraderie and excitement to witness. Seeing that made me start Slum Soccer in 2001.”
“Being on the field meant they stayed away from all sorts of vices.”
Over the years, Vijay and his organization have helped transform the lives of thousands of slum children – from recovery from drug addiction and theft to rehabilitation through football.
Take Pankaj Mahajan from Maharashtra for example. He was only in the 4th grade when he started chewing tobacco and smoking Beedis. His future seemed bleak until football saved him. Pankaj was offered free soccer practice at Vijay’s institute, which was his turning point. He was also offered a small scholarship and encouraged to go back and complete his education.
Through consistent training, Pankaj was able to get better at this sport. In 2017 he coached the Indian team for the Homeless World Cup in Norway and thereafter coached the girls team for the Glasgow tournament.
Meanwhile, Vijay says his greatest triumph was keeping the kids off drugs and other anti-social activities while they were on the field. “It’s amazing how well they’ve all embraced the game. They brought all their sincerity to the field. Not a single swear word was used while playing.
“My whole family is with me.”
Badal Biswanath Soren (19), another member of Slum Soccer, says: “I have known Vijay sir for over six years. I’m from Malda district of Kolkata and that’s where I met him. Coming from a very poor economic background, when this opportunity arose I couldn’t say no. I had to get away and do something with my life or I would have become unemployed and addicted.”
He continues: “I was thrilled to have been selected. Moving to Nagpur was a big deal for me but honestly I didn’t think my life would change in this way. I’ve represented the team at state and federal level.” Badal is confident that he can now dream and live a better life. He says even dreaming was a luxury until he moved to Nagpur.
Today, Vijay’s entire family—wife, two sons, and daughters-in-law—is involved in the organization in some way. His older son, Dr. Abhijeet (45) began with a desire to escape from the life of his parents. He decided to move abroad to study and work there. “It was only when he was there that he found out about my work through Slum Soccer. He recognized this and came back to India. It has to be one of the happiest occasions for me,” Vijay shares.
The proud father notes that much credit goes to Abhijeet, who has worked on various social media channels to spread the word about the organization in making social soccer a well-known entity. “Apart from taking a call and making a call, I don’t know anything about technology. All of this is thanks to my son.”
He also notes, “Every member of Slum Soccer has been an equal partner to me. They made sure that we got all this national and international recognition. I am because of them,” he says.
To learn more about Slum Soccer and become a small part of this movement, you can click here.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)