An enterprising woman constable of Bihar Police has been luring extremely poor children, including slum-dwellers and street children, to soccer to give them new lives.
Ranjita Singh, 27, currently posted with the training cell of Munger district police, has helped six children she trained to represent Bihar in the under-13 national championships and three others to make it to Sports Authority of India (SAI) hostel at Kishanganj, Bihar.
"I have been coaching football to 65 youngsters, including one girl, from extremely poor families to help them represent the state and the country in various tournaments," Ranjita said.
What is remarkable about her protÃ©gÃ©s is their family background.
"Four of the six players who represented Bihar are the sons of sweepers with the Homeguards or the Railways while the two others are the sons of a daily-wage labourer and a milk vendor," she said.
Ranjita, from Bhojpur's Dhandiha village, said it had become her mission to harness the sporting talent of these children roaming the streets of Munger town.
"I saw about a dozen young boys loitering around aimlessly in the streets. Most were addicted either to drugs or gutkha. I casually invited them to play soccer with me at a local playground one morningâ€¦ I started practising soccer with them every day and discovered that some of them were very gifted players," Ranjita said.
When the boys started attending her morning practice sessions regularly, she dropped a bombshell.
"I told them that I would not practice with them anymore because of their addictions and other bad habits," she said.
This brought about a sea change in their behaviour and they promised to give up all their bad habits to play football with her. Ranjita, with the help of her colleague Sushma and a physical training instructor Chandan, got them admitted to different schools and even got their tuition fee waived.
"We have a big ground in Munger but we did not have other infrastructure such as footballs, jerseys and boots for the players. This created hurdles in sending our players for an inter-district selection camp being held at Hajipur last year," she said.
Fortunately, the then SP M. Sunil Nayak heard about her mission and donated the players' uniforms, balls and boots to help them.
"This enabled our boys to go there and six of them qualified for Bihar's team that played in the national championships," Ranjita explained.
Ranjita's achievements caught the attention of Bihar's DGP Abhayanand who announced a cash award of Rs 5,000 for her and also asked the SP to relieve her from her regular duty in the police department.
"I am so obliged that the DGP has reposed trust in a constable such as me. I will try my level best to live up to his expectations," she said.
Ranjita too had made it to the Indian women's soccer team after excelling at the national championships in which she represented Bihar.
"I went to Singapore to play in an international championship organised by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) in 2003," she claimed.
"I initially excelled in track and field events and even lived at the SAI hostel in Ranchi but I was later drawn towards soccer. I started by playing with the boys and was selected for the Bihar and the India teams. The state government twice felicitated me for my performances," she added.
She suffered from a nagging knee problem which affected her career as a player.
Her father was a mechanic in the state public health and engineering department and her family of seven faced financial problems following his retirement.
"I wanted to join the National Institute of Sports but desperately needed a job. So I finally became a constable in 2008," she said.