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PERSPECTIVES

Gendering Sports in access to physical education was given


an emphasis during the debates on their

Colonial Bengal education. While a section of people


believed that physical culture should form
a part of the curriculum, another section
of people asserted that physical activity
Basudhita Basu on a regular basis was not only unneces-
sary, but also could be detrimental to the

T
The early 20th century witnessed he Census of 1911 (Calcutta) high- kind of role women were expected to
important shifts in the Bengali lighted the remarkable replacement play in the family (Chatterjee 2015: 76).
of joint family system by the The question arises here is whether
Hindu elites images of womens
nuclear families in Kolkata, erstwhile this ambience made the pioneers of
public role. The number of Calcutta. Even though the urban elite reform movements to think about the
educated women increased even accepted the idea of considering wife not physical conditions of women? Or, what
if it was within the limited as a property, but as a wife, their were the other factors which actually
identity was tied to her husband as a allowed the girls to come out of their
domain of urban communities.
companion (Dutt and Sarkar 2010: 214). zenana and participate in physical edu-
The games ethics influenced the This sentiment produced a new trend cation or take part in sports?
women and it was placed in the in the larger context of valorisation of Suparna Ghosh in her article Sporting
broader perspective of their motherhood by nationalists. Nationalism in Twentieth Century Bengal:
As elsewhere in India, in Bengal also The Gendered Perspective, argued that
emancipation. Different schools
the nationalist ideology and its move- the growth of new woman and her
and colleges with their motto of ment made motherhood central to main- womanhood can be understood in the
holistic education and the taining an orderly home for the new light of the conception of the effeminate
contemporary magazines woman. With the change in the conjugal babus of the 19th century Bengal, who
relationship between the husband and were weak and fragile. Hence, the revival
highlighted the importance of
wife, the wife was seen more as a true of their strength was needed. This new
womens health for future companion of her husband. The wives woman was now assigned a specific and
motherhood. Their role in the often wished to live up to such expecta- crucial role in rearing a special breed of
sporting field remained gendered tions. The educated husband frequently men who would be brave, patriotic and
appeared in the role of teachers (Ray- nationalistic. The nation needed strong
and female agency in this sphere
chaudhuri 1999: 83). The removal of the sons to fight against colonial rule and to
had to negotiate with forms of purdah system also brought a few women infuse the sense of self-respect among
patriarchy. to the forefront. Satyen Tagore created a the people. The nation needed daughters
sensation by taking his wife out in an to lend support to their nationalistic men
open carriage (Raychaudhuri 1999: 84). (Ghosh 2013: 109).
All such progressive movements created Sarala Devi, who had contributed a lot
a path for womens public role in late for improving the health and physique
colonial Bengal. Even earlier some women of the youths, established an akhra and
possessed a passionate desire to learn a byayam samiti as well as a physical
reading. For example, despite having 12 culture club. But she never took part in
children, Rassundari Devi taught herself displaying physical exercises in public.
to read by finding time from her hectic But the situation became favourable after
household duties. The colonial govern- 1920s when women became associated
ment also encouraged female education with the revolutionary movement. Physi-
by establishing a school at Bethune, fol- cal fitness was an important prerequisite
lowed by several schools sponsored by for participation in revolutionary move-
reformist religious institutions such as ment and its foundation was laid in their
the Brahmo Samaj, Prarthana Samaj, school and college days. For instance,
Arya Samaj and Theosophical Society Kalpana Dutta and Preetilata Waddedar,
(Forbes 2007: 83). who were associated with Chittagong
Basudhita Basu (basudhitabasuju@gmail. In the late 19th century, womens edu- Armoury Raid in 1930, used to play
com) is a research scholar at the University of cation was a priority agenda of the badminton together in the Khastagir
Calcutta, Kolkata.
emerging reform movements. Womens Girls High School in Chittagong. They
32 september 2, 2017 vol liI no 35 EPW Economic & Political Weekly
PERSPECTIVES

continued their sporting activities as the future citizens of a country was depend- missionary girls schools. The missionary
students of Bethune College. Leela Roy ant on the physical health of the women. teachers believed that education in
Therefore, like their male counterparts they
nee Nag, was associated with Sri Sangha English-language schools founded by
should take to physical exercise.3
and founded the Deepali Sangha for play- Christian women would help raise the
ing tennis, badminton, ha-du-du every Another article published in Bharat- Asian girls and women from inferiority
day in the Bethune College premises varsha mentions that the motherhood and and deprivation, and would develop
(Ghosh 2013: 109). rearing of children were equally impor- females with better minds and physically
tant for women, harping on the same improved bodies (Brownfoot 1992: 85). In
Womens Emancipation tune that women who would become colonial Bengal, like Malaya, the accounts
in Journals mothers in future would discharge their of several contemporary school women
The contemporary journals were full of duty to rear children and ensure their inspectors reveal that in the early 20th
details with respect to the revival of the proper education. Therefore, she must century, physical education for girls
powers of women. But quite interesting- educate herself about physical culture received more attention in the missionary
ly they were all advised to keep them- and its benefits. The article also sug- schools when compared to the state-run
selves healthy, but not to fight for their gested that the future mothers of the schools. By 1913, the Young Mens Chris-
nation (as was the case for men), but to nation had to give special emphasis tian Association (YMCA) was very active
produce healthy children. It was said on improving their health.4 Both these in Bengal. The weekly lectures on drill
that they had to be healthy to procure articles were advising women to take part for teachers were held at the YWCA. Drill
healthy children. The journals also men- in several exercises like skipping, play- was taught to children at all missionary
tioned that women could protect them- ing lathi, sword fighting and swimming, boarding schools in Bengal and in a few
selves only through physical exercise. etc, which would enhance their physical Hindu Schools that had female teachers.
This was talking indirectly about women strength.5 In the same year, Miss Bose, a Christian
emancipation.1 In one issue of Cooch Gender specifications had always been school inspector, noted that drill could
Behar Darpan, Jaitindra Bhusan Ghosh an important issue in sporting culture. not be introduced in schools run by pan-
wrote about the incidents of womens Even dance and performance, which were dits owing to the supposed repugnance
kidnapping appearing in the newspapers. considered as the domain of women, had towards physical training among Hindus.
In Bengal, he wrote, the number of out- gender specifications. At Santiniketan, She, however, felt that this problem could
laws and their operations were steadily while teaching dance, Rabindranath be addressed with women teachers and
increasing. Against this background, he Tagore was always particular to teach that introduction of physical training was
continued, if Bengali women were physi- Manipuri Tandava and Cholam as well the right measure towards ensuring a
cally strong, they would not have to face as Kathakali to boys and Lasya and better health for native girls (Chatterjee
such disgrace. The author also com- cymbal dance to girls (Dutt and Sarkar 2015: 79).
pared Bengali women with women in 2010: 218). Educational institutions like Bethune
other countries where they were not Similarly, in sports, women took part School tried to regularise this curriculum
considered as weak or abala as Bengali in those sports which would facilitate among their students whose enthusiasm
women. Along with education of those them to retain their femininity. Femi- in this regard reciprocated the measures
women, a special emphasis on the devel- ninity urged women to participate only of the school authority. To imbibe the team
opment of physical culture was also giv- in sports that involved graceful move- spirit among the students, the Gokhale
en. But unfortunately in case of Bengal, ments because women were considered Memorial School also organised sporting
though some arrangements were made frail, and therefore, unable to tolerate events in a regular course. Kathi (stick)
for education, physical education was the kind of physical contact that one play was popular among women students
neglected.2 would expect in mens sports. For inst- of various educational institutions as a
This article began with the question ance, Prabartak strongly recommended part of the training in new Bratachari
of empowerment of women. It asked the slow cycling for women because fast movement. A large number of girls schools
women to be strong and advised them cycling was considered harmful for the in Bengal had adopted the Bratachari
to protect themselves by practising physi- physical build of women. Cricket and movement with physical as well as moral
cal exercise. But the second half of the soccer remained a male monopoly benefits for their students and teachers
article was somewhat different. It stated (Ghosh 2013: 113). (Chatterjee 2015: 82).
that the future of any nation depended From the beginning, the Bethune Col-
upon the child and the bearer of that Physical Education for Women lege had facilities for sports and games
child, the mother. Thus, to secure a The missionary women educators believed among the day scholars and boarders.
healthy and a prosperous child, a woman in imparting education to girls and boys Regular provisions were made for the
should do physical exercise. The article equally. They regarded physical exercise physical exercise of the boarders in 1988.
continued that as an integral and necessary part of edu- In 1920, the college authorities made
subsequently these strong women would be- cation. The subject of physical education arrangements for extracurricular activi-
come a wife, then a mother The health of for Asian girls was introduced by the ties for the students. In 1922, special
Economic & Political Weekly EPW september 2, 2017 vol liI no 35 33
PERSPECTIVES

arrangements were made for physical fondly recalled her wonderful experience that true sport is one of the worlds greatest
exercises. In the following sessions, dur- of cycling with her friends Preeti Dutta physician. (Bandopadhyay 2008: 76)
ing 192425, the Bengal Social Service and Saivalini (Ghosh 2013: 1853). Cycling Drill: Another physical exercise which
League arranged to deliver a course of was significant as it could be associated was given much emphasis was drill.
lectures at the Bethune College on Health with women emancipation. In colonial Contemporary journals and newspapers
in the Home which was attended by Malaya, among the Malayan young were advising women to participate
students in large numbers. It had been women, cycling was very popular as it in drill. Missionaries in colonial Malaya
mentioned in the reports that the health played a prime role in bringing Asian also emphasised on drill. To quote Brown-
of students community was in a bad girls out into the public. Gertrude Owen, foot,
state. This was revealed in the health ex- was the one who emphasised the role in From the 1890s up to the first world war it
amination conducted by the university. bringing Asian girls out into this arena seems that Drill, gym and Calisthenics, in-
The interest in physical culture steadily by emphasising the role of the bicycle as volving mechanical forms of exercise, were
increased and about 20 students joined a a tool of female emancipation by the part of the regular educational programme
voluntary drill class in 192627.6 During 1930s (Brownfoot 1992). However, how in a number of the English-medium girls
schools. (Brownfoot 1992: 93)
the tumultuous age of 192835, when much of this sporting dimension of
Indians were craving for swaraj, the col- womens emancipation was replicated in In Bengal too, the missionary schools
lege decided to introduce a well-qualified Bengal remains a question to be probed. and colleges gave importance to drill. In
physical instructress, Dorris Webber. 1899, the Calcutta Girls High School,
Webber did excellent work in organising Badminton: Badminton was another which had been established under the
physical training in both college and popular leisure activity for college girls. patronage of Lord Canning, started classes
school. Drill was taken to with zeal by the In 192122, a tennis court was laid out for drill. It was supported by the various
girls. In 1934, a provision was made for on the southern side of Bethune College evangelical denominations of the city
an all-sided growth of corporate life in and both lawn tennis and croquet were with the principal, Miss Widdifield, as a
the college by adding four departments, also introduced for the girls. However, key centre. The gallery of the website
for socials and excursions, debates, mag- the girls remained most partisan to of this school shows pictures of young
azines and sports.7 Later, the Old Girls badminton more than any of the other girls playing basketball. The motto of
Association offered a silver cup of `30 games (Ghosh 2013: 1853). Badminton the school was providing the girls with
for inter-class competition in game. This and tennisalong with bowling and holistic education.10
turned into an annual function. On the swimmingwere games which im- The native schools also gave importance
Foundation Day celebration of the Univer- proved feminine characteristics like the to drill. In these schools, organisation of
sity of Calcutta, they, among other girls broadening of the hips (Chatterjee 2015: Saraswati Puja, an annual worship of
of different colleges, led the March Past.8 76). This might have been the reason the goddess of learning, was an occasion
why girls readily accepted badminton. for highlighting the proactive role of
Basketball and tennis: In 1936, the Even the girls of Scottish Church College women in educational institutions. This
post of the physical instructress was showed interest in playing badminton, puja was performed by the students of the
made permanent. Various sports like as did the residents of the Lady Jane Binapani Girls School with great vigour.
basketball and tennis were improved. In Dundas Hostel. According to the college The girls performed drills to entertain
1937, on the College Day, a basketball magazine of September 1910, the bad- the chief guest Maharaj Kumar Sailendra
tournament was organised between the minton club had 26 members and every Kumar Deb Bahadur.
current girl students and former girl afternoon the shuttlecock was kept busy. The Gokhale Memorial Girls School,
students of the school. With the passage The enthusiasm of the ladies seemed to under the presidency of the Raja of
of time, sports were given more impor- encourage the teaching staff too. The Burdwan, was also a strong advocate
tance. In order to develop this competi- college magazines hardly lost an oppor- of physical education for women. An
tive spirit of the students, they were tunity to publish such sporting amuse- attractive drill display, apart from usual
encouraged to join the Womens Inter- ments with greater attention: entertainment programmes like recita-
Collegiate Sports Association. Like the The enthusiastic Badmintonites of the Lady tion, drama, etc, by the pupils on the
inter-house tournaments of English Jane Dundas Hostel finished their yearly Fourth Founders Day of the school, was
schools they started having inter-class competitions sometimes ago, and on 23 De- well-appreciated (Chatterjee 2015: 83).
cember the prize were presented to the stal-
badminton tournaments.9 The autobiographical memoir of Lila
wart conquerors at the annual social func-
tion of the club. Several of the Professors Mazumdar talks about the tradition of the
Cycling: In the early 20th century, the have been trying their skill with the Shuttle- St Johns Diocesan Girls Higher Second-
girls started to engage in recreational cocks lately, and the students were afforded ary School of giving away separate prizes
forms of sports. As a part of leisurely rich amusement one afternoon on witness- to students for proficiency in drill as long
ing the enthusiastic efforts of four of our
sporting activity, girls used to practise young professors in a hotly contested match.
back as in 1921. In the annual report of
cycling before college hours. Ashoka The LID Hostel students display a vigour the United Missionary Girls High School
Gupta, a student at that time, for example, of body and mind which goes for to prove (UMGHS) of 1935, it was clearly mentioned
34 september 2, 2017 vol liI no 35 EPW Economic & Political Weekly
PERSPECTIVES

that every year special companies were which, the Bengali and Marwari girls the wife of Vice-Principal of Deaf and Dumb
formed in the Classes V to X which func- displayed swords and daggers so skilfully School and Srimati Toru Devi, wife of Sri
Dhirendronath Mukherjee, Professor of City
tioned in the organisation of games such that the whole audience was stuck with
College ranked first and had been awarded
as badminton, netball and tenniquoits. high admiration (Chatterjee 2015: 84). a cup.14
An inter-company drill contest was held During this time, there were various insti-
twice in the year. Even a school for tutions like girls schools, colleges and Women were allowed to participate
Hindi-speaking girls had pledged the private clubs which organised sporting even in the Bengal Olympic Sports. There
UMGHS to send some teachers and senior activities for women. The Victoria Insti- were competitions of sports like like tug
students to teach drill, badminton and tution, a girls college in central Calcutta of war, 100metre flat race, hurdle race
ball games (Chatterjee 2015: 83). had organised its first annual sports and high jump,15 which were considered
meet in the college compound in 1937 as mens only sports. But women started
Participation in competitions: To take (Chatterjee 2015). The newspapers and to participate in such games also.
the leisurely activities of the women to a journals carried out news about womens In the early 20th century, the domestic
competitive level, various sports compe- sports. In one of the issues of Bharatvarsha position of women changed as enco-
titions for women took place in Calcutta. it was given: unters with colonial policies continually
But unfortunately they were not allowed Girls are also participating in Sports. Recently modified womens relations with men,
to be members of any clubs. The only ex- physical exercise has been introduced in giving rise to new agencies, innovation
ception was the Calcutta Ladies Golf schools and colleges and even in girls school. and restrictions (Naha and Chatterjee
Club (CLGC), a club for European ladies, Education department of the Calcutta Corpo- 2013: 201). In many ways they were able
ration has asked its primary schools to see
which had begun in 1891. The CLGC, led to act quite independently and could
that the students regularly participate in
by Peddler, could no longer take the physical exercises. Recently it has been seen become pioneers and innovators. Hence,
humiliation of not being allowed to play that various sports competitions in various they often could keep pace with and
at will at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club or places of Calcutta are being held. We feel sometimes even be ahead of, metropolitan
the Tollygunge Club. They approached that many more such competition should be or other colonial situations. For example,
held in our country.11
the local authorities who allowed them in the United States and in the Philippines
to lay a nine-hole course on the maidan, Another journal gave updates about basketball was deliberately restricted as
provided they did not construct any per- another sporting event: a sport for both American and Filipino
manent structures. The ingenious ladies This years sport competitions of the Womens
girls from about the 1910s because it was
got over this problem by constructing Inter-College is a memorable thing. Women considered unsuitably competitive and
a clubhouse on wheels which could be students have seen to be no longer averse to unladylike. But in Malaya it was intro-
moved (Das and Das 2008: 88). Much physical education. It has been noticed that duced with inter-school matches and
even female Muslim students participated
later, various public sporting events helped conducted competitions (Brownfoot 1992:
in various sports. Female students of Scot-
the girls to come to forefront. Some of tish College, Ashutosh and Victoria College
92). As in Malaya, women from Calcutta
such events were Womens Athletic Sports participated in the sports wearing frocks. took part in basketball competitions. A
and Girls Inter-School Provincial Athletic Female students of Lady Brabourne College picture depicted the basketball team of
Championship organised by Anandamela, participated in sports wearing Pajamas. Ku- the Victoria Institution, Calcutta, as the
mari Santa Basu became champion in the
which witnessed the participation of winners of the inter-college Hindustan
competition held in Calcutta.12
more than 200 girls from Calcutta and Standard Challenge Cup (Naha and
other districts. A long programme of nearly The names of winners were also pub- Chatterjee 2013). Schools and colleges
45 events like flat race, cycle race, hurdles, lished and thus formed an idea about like Loreto House (LH), La Martiniere for
sack race, high jump, relay, balance race, the types of games in which they took Girls also participated in certain compe-
etc, were organised as part of the event. part. In the Anandamela Sports, Roma titions. In fact, in the LH, girls used to
Various other local clubs and organisa- Chakravarti of the Bethune College become the champions in senior basket-
tions took up the issue of women sports became the winner of 100 yards flat ball league matches.16 In 1929, the
seriously and organised a number of race and Beti Edwards was the winner Womens Basketball Association of Bengal
sporting events. Notable among them were of Low Hurdle Race (86 yards) in the came into being sponsored by the West
the Bharat Stri Shiksha Sadan Sports, city athletic sports. In another competi- Bengal Basketball Association. It deve-
Women School Championship Meeting, tion of Anandamela, Ramala Bando- loped its own panel of women referees
Alpha Athletic Sports, Shanti Sangha padhyay became the winner of the 75 and solved the referee problem (Ghosh
Sports, Jatiya Yuba Sangha Sports and yards flat race.13 Even married women 2013: 115).
the Amherst Athletic Sports (Chatterjee got an opportunity to participate in a
2015: 84). few sports competitions which took Swimming: Amitabha Chatterjee writes
The ladies sporting competitions, held place in Calcutta. In one of the reports it that swimming was another form of
under the auspices of ladies sporting was said: sport which often raised the eyebrows of
union, were successful and interesting In the month of February at Calcutta Womens the conservatives. Girls, hitherto restricted
events and the first of its kind in India, in Garden in a badminton match Nirmala Devi, to private domains, were drawn to the
Economic & Political Weekly EPW september 2, 2017 vol liI no 35 35
PERSPECTIVES

swimming tracks. Amrita Bazar Patrika to parental opposition, Bethune College 7 Op cit, p 54.
reported an article on womens swim- was not ready to field a team with 8 Op cit.
9 Op cit, p 93.
ming with a caption Swimming for men referees, linesmen and spectators. 10 www.cghschool.org/homepage.html.
Grown up Girls in Hedua. It mentioned Purna Ghosh attempted to play soccer 11 Bharatvarsha, Baishak, 1349 (BS) 1942, May.
that the swimming pool of the Cornwal- and became the subject of ridicule. 12 Cooch Behar Darpan, 1940, 21st issue.
13 Bharatvarsha, Baishak, 1349 (B S) 1942, May.
lis Square Park was reserved exclusively Despite considerable opposition, Womens
14 Desh, 1933, Phalgun (March).
for women every day from 5:30 am to Sports Federation was formed in 1938 15 Sachitra Bharat, 1937, Volume II, Issue III.
6:30 am when the swimming club was (Ghosh 2013). 16 Bharatvarsha, Kartik (November), 1937.
kept entirely closed, to keep women Another important point in this con- 17 Bharatvarsha, 1349 (BS) June 1942.

swimmers entirely out of sight of the nection was the dress code followed by
general public. The National Swimming women taking part in the competition. It References
Association supported this step, while was noticed that the Bengali women Bandopadhay, Kaushik (2008): Games Ethics in
Bengal: A Commentary on the Sporting Tradi-
the college girls who lived in the neigh- wore sarees, which were not at all suita- tion of the Scottish Church College, 175th Year
bouring hostels appreciated the innovation ble for sporting purposes as it created Commermoration Volume, Kolkata: Scottish
Church School.
with delight; Brahmo Kumari Roy, presi- hindrance to free movement. But the Bhattacharya, Suparna Ghosh (2009): Physical
dent of the Bengal Provincial Womens AngloIndian women readily accepted Education in the Curriculum: The Case Study
of Bethune College, The International Journal
League, wholeheartedly supported the shorts, skirts or frocks. Thus, it could be of the History of Sports, 26: 12, DOI:10.1080/09
project (Chatterjee 2015: 88). concluded that though they took part in 523360903172440,P-1853.
Brownfoot, Janice N (1992): Emancipation, Exer-
In a swimming competition organised sports, they could not completely give cise and Imperialism: Girls and Games Ethics
by the Shanti Sangha in Dacca, a 10-year- up their old traditional values which in Colonial Malaya, The Cultural Bond: Sports,
old girl, named Amiya Debi, showed continued to create barriers to their Empire, Society, J A Mangan (ed), London:
Routledge.
excellent swimming skills, which was participation in sporting events as free Chatterjee, Amitava (2015): Gendering Women
wholeheartedly cheered by spectators. agents. Yet, schools, especially the mis- Sporting Culture in Colonial Bengal: A Historical
Perspective, Gender and Modernity, A Chatterjee
She swam two miles in only 35 minutes sionary institutions played a critical role (ed), Kolkata: Setu Prakashani.
(Ghosh 2013: 116). Sabitri Rani Khandel- in the changes that Bengali girls had ex- Das, Pradip and Anita Das (2008): The Tollygung
Club Since 1895, Kolkata: The Tollywood Club
wala swam for 15 hours in Hedua Swim- perienced. Womens physical education Limited.
ming Pool and she had won the gold star ted with light exercises and drills, Dutta, Bishnupriya and Urmimala Munsi Sarkar
(2010): Engendering Performance: Indian Women
medal at Rangoon, with her hands and and finally got structured and institutio- Performers in Search of an Identity, New Delhi:
feet tied together.17 This reflected great nalised, resulting in the development of Sage Publication.
patience, strength, grace which were numerous competitions and events at Forbes, Geraldine (2007): Education for Women,
Women and Social Reform in Modern India
cultivated through womens participation regular intervals, thus, creating a new (Vol 1), Sumit Sarkar and Tanika Sarkar (eds),
in sporting events. space for athleticism of women. Ranikhet: Permanent Black.
Ghosh, Suparna (2013): Sporting Nationalism in
During the phase from 1935 to 1942, Twentieth Century Bengal: A Gendered Per-
Ila Sen had established herself as an Notes spective, People at Play: Sport Culture and
Nationalism, Amitava Chatterjee (ed), Kolkata:
excellent sportswoman, who was equally 1 Cooch Behar Darpan, 1349 (B S) 1942, Paila Setu Prakashani.
kartik.
proficient in athletics, basketball, bad- Naha, Souvik and Amitabha Chatterjee (2013):
2 Cooch Behar Darpan. Sports in Colonial India: Vigneltes from the
minton and tenniquoits. She represented 3 Cooch Behar Darpan. Past, People at Play: Sports, Culture and
India in Olympic Games in 1940, thereby 4 Bharatvarsha, 1339 (B S) 1933, Poush. Nationalism, A Chaterjee (ed), Kolkata: Setu
5 Bharatvarsha. Prakashani.
proving the worth of Bengali girls
6 The Reorganised Bethune School. With Col- Raychaudhuri, Tapan (1999): Perceptions, Emo-
(Ghosh 2013: 116). lege: With College Classes, http://www. tions, Sensibilitis: Essays on Indias Colonial
southasiaarchive.com/Content/sarf.147174/ and Post-colonial Experiences, New Delhi:
228666/004. Oxford University Press.
Cricket and soccer: But women were
never accepted in cricket and football.
These two sports remained under mens Licensing by EPWI
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36 september 2, 2017 vol liI no 35 EPW Economic & Political Weekly