Talking Rugby Futures: In the second in our series of interviews Disha Musaddi talks about life and rugby to four young girls in the Jungle Crows programme from the rural villages of Saraswatipur part of Siliguri district – Kirpa Oraon (19 years old), Sandhya Rai (14 years old), Sanjana Oraon (19 years old) and Punam Oraon (17 years old).
So tell us something about your background…
Kirpa – I am from Saraswatipur and am studying in class 10 of Gajaldoba High School. I have been learning and playing Rugby for the last one year.
Sandhya – I’m a student of class 9. I am from Saraswatipur; many don’t know about this village, hence, we say Siliguri! I stay with my parents and brother.
Punam – I am from a family of 6 and live in Saraswatipur too. I am studying at Gajaldoba High School and have just started with class 8. I have been involved with Rugby for the last one year and it has been an enjoyable experience as it has had a major impact on my life.
Sanjana – I hail from Saraswatipur, Siliguri and live with my parents and a younger brother… I am currently in class 10 of Gajoldoba High School, and shall be giving my Madhyamik Pariksha (Board Exams) in a month’s time. I have been playing rugby for Jungle Crows and I really enjoy playing this sport.
How and when did you start playing rugby?
Kirpa – It was Father Mathew who told me and a friend that he’s bringing the game of rugby through the Jungle Crows Foundation to Saraswatipur, where both boys and girls will have to play together. He trusted us and wanted us to inform others about this initiative, so that more children could participate. In the village, many leave their studies mid way, hence Father Mathew believed that this sport would benefit the children of Saraswatipur. People were very hesitant at first, and we convinced them by telling them that playing would be great fun and that they could meet new people and learn a lot from it.
We started with tag and touch rugby. Harry sir and Amirul sir were our coaches then. Father Mathew was very happy with the turn out and so were we… we were more excited about playing a new game…we have now started focussing on the tackle format as well and have played many tournaments like the national ones in Bhubaneswar and Nagpur. Now we are going to represent Bengal in the National Games in Kerala. We have travelled a lot through this sport, which was unimaginable. I could not go to Orissa for the tournament, but I was very happy to hear about the girls’ success there. To be honest, I was a little upset even as I wasn’t a part of the team. My first big match was in the National U18s in Nagpur where we were runners up. On seeing the medal, my parents were thrilled.
I personally feel there’s a lot we can achieve by playing rugby and studying. I want the same for the other children in Saraswatipur and would like to motivate them to go ahead in life. My parents too are very happy with what I am doing. They encourage me to help other girls and introduce them to Rugby.
Sanjana – I started playing in 2013 along with all the others. The rest of the story has been told by Kirpa!
Sandhya – But we are new to the real (tackle) rugby; we used to only play touch then, now we play more of tackle. I heard about rugby from a friend.
Punam – Kirpa di told me about it and she took us to play. She told us that there are coaches from outside (outside Siliguri) who will teach us.
What was your family’s reaction when you started playing?
Kirpa – My family is very supportive. I knew I wouldn’t face difficulties regarding this, because both my sister and I play a lot. There are no restrictions in my house; they tell us to play instead of stopping us. At home, everybody is of the opinion that if there’s anything good, we should definitely learn it. My parents…well the entire family is encouraging.
Sandhya – My parents tell me to go and play…
Punam – My mother supports me, but my brothers stop me from playing, because they think that I will hurt myself… I don’t listen to them… when I feel like playing, I run away and play.
Sanjana – Initially, my mother didn’t like my playing and would stop me. I would tell her that I will play since I enjoy and she gave her consent only after Amirul Sir spoke to her. My neighbour objects to it, but I don’t bother about them and continue to train.
Who has been and is currently your coach?
Sandhya – We’ve had 6 coaches so far.
Sanjana – Harry sir and Amirul Sir trained us first… Sanu and Lovepreet sir then we had Sukumar for some time and recently Parvez was also there.
Among all these, who’s your favourite?
Together – All of them…!
Kirpa – Everyone, because they trained us and taught us the same thing…we respect them… we can’t say who’s the most liked and least liked among them…
Sandhya – since Harry Sir and Amirul first coached us, they’re my favourite.
What are the changes you’ve noticed in yourself when you started playing?
Sanjana – there are many changes…we weren’t disciplined, now we have learnt how to behave, how to speak with other people, both elders and those younger to us…
Punam – I was very wicked as a kid… rugby has changed me for good.
Sandhya – Earlier I wasn’t very fond of these girls (Poonam, Sanjana, Kirpa and the other girls) because they were from another village and their team was much better than ours, which made us jealous. Now, we’re a part of the same team so I really like them.
Kirpa – I didn’t know how to speak properly with others, I wasn’t disciplined….I gradually learnt all this. The coaches would talk to us and I made it a point to listen to them. When we were wrong, they corrected us immediately and would guide us to do the right thing. If they told us not to do something, I wouldn’t do it. All of them taught us to respect others, as a result we start gaining respect and that we should even respect those younger to us. We should get the younger generation disciplined by showing the same respect and sharing with them the knowledge we have acquired.
The chai bagan (tea garden) looks to be a very beautiful place from the outside, but can you share with us about life inside the bagan? And considering the problems people face, what would you like to do for it?
Kirpa – In the bagan, the salary is very low…my parents have to leave early for work at 7am. It’s with this in mind that we are studying and hence, we should work hard. Everyone considers the tea garden to be very nice, but that’s not the case in reality. I want to study, work hard and not work in the tea garden and not even let my parents work there… it’s very tedious for them… after working for long hours whatever little they earn is spent on us and our education.
Punam – Even my mother works in the tea garden…I don’t like staying there. I want to be sincere with my studies and work and leave the bagan along with my mother. Living out there is very difficult, mainly because people don’t support each other…if even one mistake is made, everyone goes against it and makes a big issue out of it.
Sandhya – I like staying there, but people drink a lot making it unsafe for us. The one thing I hate is drunk men lying around everywhere!
Kirpa – People in our society don’t seem to understand the importance of exploring the world outside…many of us from the adivasi samaj have been exploited for many years and have just accepted it.. People do not have the money to venture out, so I guess that’s why they don’t understand this. There is gender discrimination. People think girls can’t play but, girls can play and achieve a lot, whereas it’s the boys who are left behind. I don’t listen to them because in my house both boys and girls are given equal chances to play and we are encouraged to do what is good. In Saraswatipur, almost all the girls are interested in the game. But there are some people who stop us from playing…they believe this game is not meant for girls. In fact, it is this game has come for both the girls and boys of the village…they don’t know all that we can achieve from this.
Recently, when we went to Nagpur and won a medal, some of the villagers commented that we bought them instead of winning it. There was no encouragement from their end… all they do is to demean us. We don’t listen to them; instead we only concentrate on our game.
Sandhya – At times they disturb us while we are practicing… they play cricket on the field and have even made a volleyball post in the ground so that we don’t get space to practice.
Sanjana – It’s more like they are jealous of us…..
Punam – They scold us while playing… hey say that we’ll injure ourselves and no one will come to look after us. We tell them that the coaches will see because they are training us, as well as our family is there to take care of such matters.
Who are you closest to in the team?
Sanjana – Sapna, Raveena, Chanda… almost everyone.
Punam – Kripa Di, as she’s the eldest, she is intelligent and is always willing to help us.
Sandhya – Malo and Menoka. One good thing about Menoka is that she doesn’t get angry and is always making others laugh.
Kirpa – Whenever there’s something to share; I first say it to Sapna then to Sanjana and Reema – they always support me.
Who’s your favourite sports person?
Sandhya – In rugby, I like Commando (Puspendu, of Jungle Crows) and Bhagyashree from the Pune team. The first time I saw Commando play was in Siliguri. His tackle is amazing.
Punam – Commando and Harry Sir
Sanjana – Commando…I saw him play in Siliguri first and didn’t expect him to be so good. Then I saw him play in the tournament in Orissa.
Kirpa – Tudu Sir…his passes and running is very good. Even Tiger Sir as he runs fast.
If you could tackle somebody very hard, who would it be?
Kirpa – Hupi and Meerarani of the KISS team, because they blocked my sister Sapna in the match in Nagpur!
Sandhya – the same girls and Sumitra also from KISS!
Punam – the 3 girls from KISS and a girl from Pune and Delhi even… I want to tackle almost everyone, so that we can win.
Sanjana – The same goes for me and Bhagyashree and Surabhi of the Pune team. They play very well…if we manage to tackle them and restrict them; their team will become weaker, giving us the added advantage to win.
Any other sport you play?
Punam – Cricket, football, athletics and even netball.
How is it like to play netball?
Sandhya – It’s fun to play, but one doesn’t have to run much in netball…it’s like get the possession of the ball, take 2 steps and pass.
If you have to choose between netball and rugby, which one would you prefer?
Together – Rugby, we get to run in rugby!
Kirpa – Rugby requires a lot of fitness, that’s why I like it. I wasn’t allowed to play netball because I’m much taller than the other girls and hence could score a goal easily…
Punam – Our team lost the netball match, because we were much shorter than the other team players and faced difficulties in scoring a goal.
What would you like to achieve in your life, both in and outside rugby?
Sanjana – I want to be a great rugby player and study a lot, at least complete my graduation…
Punam – There’s a lot I want to do. First, I want to complete my graduation and become a great rugby coach. Finally, find a job outside the village.
Sandhya – I wanted to represent Bengal in Rugby, which I just did in the National Games. Now my aim is to represent India. And, when I earn some money through rugby, I would like to get my hair straightened in a posh parlour!
Kirpa – I want to be a good player. I don’t know how far I can study, but I would definitely want to finish my schooling and work extremely hard after that to support my family. Such a long way still to go, sometimes we feel scared about what will happen to us.
The Jungle Crows Foundation, through its unique open-for-all sport-for-development approach, has supported many children from disadvantaged communities over the years to express themselves through the medium of sports and reach their full potential. This interview series is an attempt to bring out the stories of several such young people associated with the Foundation, coming from diverse backgrounds, and develop a platform for further discussion and dialogue on the theme of sports and development.