Girls Power On

Parents should encourage their daughters to play rugby!

by Peter Fernandes

I was in one of our Khelo Rugby communities in Kolkata recently and heard a parent remark, “I would not let my girl play sports and rugby is out of the question because it is one the most dangerous sports in the world”. Working as I do for the Jungle Crows and having lived in the rugby crazy nation of New Zealand where young 5-6 year old girls turn up for weekly rugby training these words spoken by a parent left me hurting. And wanting to set them right!

The words echoed in my head and gave me a much clearer insight into the real life discrimination young girls face on a daily basis. Gender inequality is very prevalent here in India so I know that the work we do at Khelo Rugby to get more girls playing is very important and makes a difference. We know that with a properly trained coach to conduct training sessions, teaching the right tackling techniques, using the proper equipment, playing on a good field, using a safe and convenient location, rugby can be enjoyed equally by both boys and girls. The physical nature of the sport does raise concerns in the minds of parents and guardians which is why we work diligently  to play safely.

Talking to the coaches of Khelo Rugby about how the sport has been taken up by girls, the replies by most are all inclined towards the belief I have – girls love sports and rugby is no exception. They love the fact that rugby is challenging, tough and sometimes of a full contact nature. In short, they love rugby!

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Some of the slogans from our #DayoftheGirl tournament

Working with these girls who have no issues playing, the onus now moves on to the parents. It can be a tough task no doubt, but we know that if we can make a young girl attend our programme she’ll like it, and will in turn create better awareness of the importance of sport in her family. She will also convince her other friends in her local community to play and participate and that is always rewarding.

India as a country has a history of physical full contact sports which are quite popular like Pehlwani or Kushti (wrestling), Kabaddi and lesser known sports like Inbuan (combat wrestling in Mizoram), Yubi Lakpi (Manipur form of rugby). What is ubiquitous in most of the full contact sports is the minimal presence of girls or women actively participating. If we want to empower and bring about a change in society we all need to do our part by actively involving girls in sports.

To further this active participation we organised our own #DayoftheGirl rugby tournament on 23 October for our Khelo Rugby girls. We also made October our month of gender equality. 237 girls in 20 teams took part in the tournament and it was incredible to see. The girls played tag which means good skills, running and evasion.

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#DayoftheGirl 23 October on Crow Field

It was also inspiring to see recently the first women’s 15-a-side rugby matches played in India during the annual All India rugby tournament. We were delighted that our Jungle Crows team was almost fully made up of Khelo Rugby graduates. At Khelo we wish to create a lifelong love for sport and rugby in every child that we work with.

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Jungle Crows and CCFC teams at All India

I love that there is a place for everyone in rugby – if you are solid and powerful, there is the front row position for you. If you are tall and strong, you’re a good fit for the lock position. If you are fast and tough, there is flanker’s position for you. If you are quick, resilient and have crazy endurance, we have the whole back line positions for you. Whether you are 4ft or 6ft tall, whether you weigh 50kgs or 100kgs, you can be a part of a rugby team.

For me I think the following seven reasons should convince parents and guardians why they should encourage their daughters to play rugby, I hope you’d agree and please do share your own ideas:

1. Our girls learn to be strong and that the body has immense power.

Rugby is physically tough, challenging and being a full contact sport takes a toll on the person’s body. I had read an anecdote that football is a sport where players pretend to be hurt for 90mins and Rugby is a sport where players pretend not to be hurt for 80mins. Playing Rugby will make a girl feel strong. If she loves the sport and wants to be part of a rugby club like the Jungle Crows, she will have to put in the effort to become stronger physically and mentally. By playing rugby, she will get faster; her body will become more agile and strong. Along the course of learning the right tackling techniques, getting tackled the right way, getting into a ruck or maul, getting into a scrum, she will soon begin to realize the fact that her body has immense power and that she has every capability of playing a full contact sport and to be good at it. The ability to push your body and mind to the limit is a powerful accomplishment.

2. Our girls learn the importance of teamwork and trusting other people.

A girl who plays rugby will understand that she will have to put her body on the line and trust in her team mates. She will tackle someone, she will run, get tackled, ruck, will get up, run again, hit someone again, ruck again, run some more. Sometimes there will be a scrum and a tangled mess of body parts, she will get up and do it all again. It will go on for 80 long minutes. But at the end of every match, she will feel re-energized and mentally fulfilled because she was there for her team mates and her team mates were there for her. Her trust in people around her will increase and being a good hard working team mate, she will be equally trustworthy. She will learn that regardless of how talented and good a player she is, without the dedicated efforts of her team mates, she cannot win the match. She will have to learn to trust and be trustworthy herself, that’s the only way her team will compete.

3. Our girls learn that they are capable of doing anything that the boys can.

Rugby being a full contact physical sport is a very good opportunity to promote gender equality. Girls are tough too, both physically and mentally. What one must understand that a girl playing rugby is only going to be tackling and getting tackled by other girls. It is a fair and integral part of the game. By playing rugby, she will become more confident and have more self-belief in her abilities. I had a hostel manager back when I was working in New Zealand who was a volunteer community rugby coach. Every time a girl would approach her for medication for minor injuries, cuts or bruises, she had this very catchy phrase, “toughen up princess, stop whining like a little boy”. Our girls through rugby will learn that they are capable of doing anything. She will understand that she is quite unstoppable when she puts her mind and body into achieving a goal.

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Jungle Crows v YRC in India’s first women’s 15-a-side game

4. Our girls learn how to get back up after being knocked down.

There are numerous times in life, when it will seem like you are completely knocked down and have no energy to move forward. A rugby player who gets knocked down in life will have the mental strength to push hard and keep moving forward. In the 80 mins of a rugby match, players gets knocked down, fall to the ground but always get back up and continue moving forward. What one learns on the field is probably the biggest life lesson of all. A girl who puts in her hard work and is persistent in her training sessions will in most likelihood achieve the desired success. She will also gather the mental strength needed to face this world and live a fulfilling life. She will learn to accept defeats graciously and celebrate victories in full.

5. Our girls have a lot of respect for others.

The sport of rugby is more inclusive than most sports that exist in the world. A person of every body shape and size can find a position on the rugby field. For a girl, this can be very uplifting as her body shape or size will not affect her opportunity to play. She will learn to respect her team mates and her opponents who will in most likelihood be far more different physically then her. She will learn to accept different type of people and still play together as a team. She will learn that once she gets tackled, her teammates are there to support her. She will learn to obey the rules of game, respect the referee’s decision, and respect her coaches.

6. Our girls learn to be great ambassadors for the values of rugby throughout life.

Girls are the best ambassadors to carry the values of rugby into the life of their families. I like this set of values: teamwork, discipline, enjoyment, respect and sportsmanship – essential life values. These values when taught in a cohesive environment to the girls on a rugby field can be passed down for generations. Girls are excellent communicators and the real change makers of society. Rugby needs good ambassadors and girls are the perfect ambassadors for the sport worldwide.

7. Our girls learn the importance of hard work and develop a sense of pride.

“Wait, what? You play rugby??” will be a question that she will learn to enjoy the most in her life. It will instill a sense of pride in her because she will be among just the 1% of the girls in India that play rugby. Rugby requires sincere dedication, sacrifice and a lot of hard work to get good at it. The girls that venture into rugby will learn how important it is to work hard in life to achieve a goal and that there are no shortcuts to success. Given the right motivation, she will continue to strive to achieve more her whole life.

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Rugby Girls Aloud

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).

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L to R: Sanjana, Punam, Sandhya, Kirpa

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.

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Eight girls from Saraswatipur played for West Bengal in the National Games Rugby

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.

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Saraswatipur

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.

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Rugby action in the village!

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.

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Saraswatipur girls at the National U18s in Nagpur in 2014

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. 

Khelo Khelo Girls……..

Abhishek Singh, Manager of the Khelo Rugby Programme on our latest initiative.

Although girls make up about 20-25% of our regular Khelo Rugby participants we’ve long wanted to increase this percentage and give them more of a chance in playing. Funny our parent Jungle Crows Women’s team is in a lot of ways more successful than the Men’s team, having won a couple of national tournaments, so we know the great potential for girls in our sport.

My first dedicated training in a girls school was this morning at Shri Shikshayatan School in central Kolkata.  At the same time I was excited and nervous to be taking this training. I’m not really used to dealing with sophisticated school girls!

At 8.00am there was only one girl there, not a very good start! But very soon a good group of girls turned up and we kicked off on our training session.  Starting with fun games and activities to keep everyone interested we then moved into a quick game.  Not bad 15 minutes after seeing a rugby ball something like a game was going on. We worked a bit on passing after that and even had a cheerleading song in between – they’re a talented bunch at Shri Shikshayatan.  Good session with plenty of fun and learning, helped out by one of our volunteers from UK Curt who did a great job.Image

This is the second girls school we’ve taken Khelo to. Our plan is to introduce Khelo Rugby in at least 12 schools across the city in the coming two months. We also aim to educate the teachers of the school about rugby.  We have planned workshops for them to help them understand the game and the Khelo programme.  Once we get all the schools playing we’ll host a rugby festival to bring them all together and include some of our other communities.

We hope with these efforts to encourage more girls into rugby and sport, develop a  mainstream element within Khelo Rugby and increase the Khelo community across Kolkata even further.  Exciting times for us!

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