Murder convict Bhanu Soren looks forward to every afternoon with anticipation. That is the time of the day when Soren, who is lodged in Assam’s Golaghat district jail, gets to indulge in his latest passion- football.
For the past six months, Soren and dozens of others among the jail’s 512 inmates have been learning to play football. They play bare feet.
Inspired by Nigerian prisoner
The change in Soren and others like him can be attributed to Henry Oja Kelechi. He is a Nigerian lodged in the same jail following his arrest in March for travelling with an expired visa.
The football enthusiast from Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, claims he was busy travelling to different places in Assam. He was travelling for football coaching in schools and small clubs and forgot to extend his visa.
‘I was very upset about landing in jail. But everything changed after jail superintendent Dilip Saikia gave me a football,’ the 27-year-old said.
Henry began playing in the small field within the jail and soon was joined by many male inmates. Most of them convicted for murder and drug dealing were eager to learn the most popular sport in the world.
But there was a problem. The jail only had a small area for the inmates to play volleyball. So the jail authorities and Henry and his gang of wannabe footballers decided to improvise.
Jail witnessing full-fledged soccer
‘We extended the volleyball court and prepared a field 60 metres in length and 35 metres in breadth. The size of the goal posts were also decreased,’ said jail superintendent Saikia.
Instead of regulation 11-man teams, eight teams comprising seven players and three substitutes were formed. Playing time was reduced to two halves of 20 minutes each instead of the usual 45 minutes for each half.
Last month, Golaghat organized the first ever football tournament inside a jail in Assam. The final of Independence Cup on August 15 was a nail biting affair with Team A defeating Team B in a tie breaker.
Henry has almost completed his 6-month jail term and will soon be eligible for release.