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Mecca of Indian football launches 'Joyee'

After winning the hearts of the people of Bengal, it is now the target of Refugee Handicrafts committee to make Joyee footballs popular across the country, writes Pritesh Basu.

'Joyee' the football manufactured by women from rural Bengal, under a unique project of the Mamata Banerjee led government, has won many challenges and has become immensely popular upon distribution among local clubs across the state ahead of the FIFA Under-17 Football World Cup.

Firstly, it has attempted to revive the Refugee Handicrafts under the supervision of MSME Department of Bengal government that had turned sick during the Left Front regime. Secondly, it brought the football manufacturing industry, which was once a pride of the state, back on its feet. The initiative has generated job opportunities for the rural women populace and last but not the least the football loving Bengal has succeeded in gifting home-manufactured footballs to its players. The Chief Minister named the football 'Joyee'.
Even though the FIFA Under-17 Football World Cup is just over, Bengal, "the Mecca of Indian football," will continue to enjoy the football fever as always. The only change that is going to take place is that the state will no more be dependent on any other parts of the country to get footballs. The day is not too far when Bengal will be self-dependent in supplying footballs to players who need them around the year for practice or any big tournaments. Under the supervision of the Refugee Handicrafts Managing Committee, several rural women have started manufacturing footballs. The committee has set a target of engaging 3,000 people in the project in the next two years.
Refugee Handicraft was set up in 1950 by the then Chief Minister Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy with an aim to help refugees get some work to earn their livelihood when they had taken shelter in the state following the Partition of India. With some financial support from the state government, they used to manufacture handcrafted goods and sell them in the market to earn a livelihood.
But negligence and lackadaisical attitude of the erstwhile Left Front government had left Refugee Handicraft in its poorest state; there was a proposal to even wind up the "loss-making" body.
It was after the change of guard in the state in 2011 when a Refugee Handicraft Managing Committee comprising former footballers was set up by the Chief Minister with an aim to revive the body. Manas Bhattacharya and Bidesh Bose, both former footballers, are the chairman and vice chairman of the committee respectively with Prasanta Banerjee, Nemai Ghosh and Shanti Mallick as its members.
Experts in manufacturing footballs were engaged and a roadmap was prepared to start a journey to revive the football manufacturing industry in Bengal.
Bhattacharya said they first visited a village at Tarakeswar in Hooghly district where they approached some men to get involved in the project to manufacture football. Interestingly, some women from the village came forward knowing that they will be given the training to pick up skills of making footballs and subsequently they can take this up as a means of earning their livelihood. Gradually, more women from other villages got engaged in the project. It may be mentioned that around 35,000 families at Jalandhar in Punjab and some other parts in that region earn their livelihood by making footballs.
"Handmade footballs are comparatively cheaper than the machine-made ones and this is one reason why the demand of handmade footballs is more in our country," said Bhattacharya adding that Bengal in making footballs is better compared to that of Jalandhar. Workers there apply comparatively more strength to stitch the footballs unlike skillful technique of stitching used by women in Bengal.
Each and every football are properly tested to ensure that the quality as per the set specifications is maintained. Following the international guidelines, each football is allowed for final packaging only if its circumference is 27.6 inches and weighs 410 gm to 450 gm.
Bhattacharya said that Rajiva Sinha, the additional chief secretary of MSME department, has extended all support in taking the project up to the grassroots level.
At present, 600 people, mostly women are engaged in making footballs. They have gone through training sessions for which they received a remuneration. Leaving all astonished, they manufactured more than 1.5 lakh footballs just ahead of the Under-17 World Cup. Around 1.27 lakh footballs procured by the state government were distributed among Durga Puja organisers, local clubs, educational institutions and police lines across the state as a part of a campaign for the World Cup.
The state Youth Services and Sports department has distributed the footballs and Aroop Biswas, the department's minister, has played a major role in making the project successful.
Juthika Dey, a member of the Refugee Handicraft team from Howrah, said: "We have never imagined that we could make footballs. We were of the opinion that the footballs are stitched using machines only. The initiative has opened our eyes and we came to know that it can be stitched by hand and it can be a means of livelihood."
"We picked up the skill during the training sessions and now we want to progress further in this sector," she said adding that the most important part of it is that they can do the work simultaneously while doing their household work and looking after their families. They take raw materials including synthetic panels, thread, needles and adhesive to their homes where they stitch footballs in between their household work.
There are many like Dey in Howrah and Hooghly districts of Bengal who are ready to go ahead with the growing football manufacturing industry in the state. A total of 3000 people will be inducted in the sector in the coming two years time as the Refugee Handicraft Managing Committee has assessed the need for increasing production of footballs for further commercialisation of the product with a target of selling the best quality football at a reasonable cost.
Now, raw materials are needed to be imported from other places, Synthetic panels are bought from Jalandhar and threads from Kanpur. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has also directed to look into the aspect of producing the raw materials as well in Bengal.
The Refugee Handicraft Managing Committee is taking necessary steps to ensure production of raw materials in the state itself, and the members of the committee will be holding a meeting in this regard soon.
This comes at the time when football lovers across the state have got well accustomed with the name 'Joyee' as wherever they went since Durga Puja they came across promotional hoardings for Under-17 World Cup containing photographs of the footballs with the name printed on them. The state government has given two Joyee footballs to Puja organisers and that were displayed in front of Puja mandaps. So along with the World Cup, the "Bengal made" football has also gained immense popularity during the state's biggest festival, Durga Puja.
After winning the heart of the people of Bengal, it is now the target of the committee to make Joyee footballs popular across the country.

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