More Than Just A Try

The empowering change a game can have on a community.

by Ramona Sen, Author and Journalist

The girls from Saraswatipur are disappointed that they couldn’t participate in the Asian Games, the most high-profile tournament for the Indian rugby women’s team. Their hopes were soaring when the team was approved for the preparatory camp and cruelly dashed when the Indian Olympic Association decided to leave rugby out of the final Indian contingent.

“Some of our friends from the other states even left their jobs to come practise for this,” said Swapna Oraon, one of the first from her tiny tea-garden hometown in North Bengal to have taken to rugby.

Her disappointment is understandable. Swapna, Sandhya and many other young girls in Saraswatipur have been given a new lease of life after they discovered rugby. These are girls whose lives had been mapped out since they were tiny tots – scrape through class 10 and get married as soon as possible. Now, with the advent of rugby, marriage is no longer a matter of compulsion; they have the luxury of choice.

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Sandhya and Swapna: disappointed with the Asian Games decision but determined to keep playing

Rugby has put Saraswatipur on the map. “Our village is in the middle of the woods, no one knew it existed. But now we have out-station visitors and many people come to watch us play,” said Sandhya Rai, who attends George College in Sealdah, central Kolkata. She likes the big city, in spite of the serenity she has been used to. “Transport is available so easily in Kolkata. In Saraswatipur, we used to travel a long way to go anywhere and if we didn’t find transport, we would have to cancel plans.”

The game has made the village more cosmopolitan than it could have ever imagined being. Now its young girls wear shorts and dash about a field, like boys, driving the boys to the sidelines. Not that it was a smooth transition from playing doll to playing ball. “My uncle used to constantly tell my mother it was obscene of me to be seen with bare legs. But she’d always tell him to mind his own business,” said Sandhya. The censure isn’t limited only to the older generation, unused to seeing their womenfolk scampering about a sporting field. “Girls my age are married and raising children. They never took to rugby, or they tried and couldn’t play, and now they’re jealous and talk about us behind our backs,” said Sandhya, who is 17.

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Sandhya in action for West Bengal

Do the globe-trotting rugby girls, back from Paris and Singapore, assume that marriage and babies is not for them? Not at all. They like the idea of a boyfriend, preferably an athlete himself, someone who will understand equality. They face no discrimination on the field and don’t think they can ever settle for it in their inter-personal relationships. This, if anything, is the biggest change the game has brought about. For the first time, girls from Saraswatipur can dream of equality. “My husband should never be able to throw his money in my face and tell me I’m dependent on him forever,” articulates Sandhya, firmly. She understands the need to have the wherewithal to make her own life as well as inspire younger girls in the village to follow this not-so-beaten path.

Perhaps there really is something about sport that lends clarity of thought. The girls have learnt to be optimistic but practical about the life that lies before them. Though they’ve grasped an opportunity with all the doggedness of a forward, they see the struggles awaiting them – of having pinned their life’s ambitions on a game that might receive rejection from governing bodies, of making their peace with defeat at international tournaments “because the other team was bigger and stronger”. And through it all is the will to live a life that makes a difference.

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Swapna breaks through for West Bengal

Read more about what we do at: www.junglecrows.net

Khelo Rugby: Looking Back Moving Forward

Busy Busy Times for the Crows and Khelo Rugby

by Shreyas Rao

The last three months have been incredibly busy with the Jungle Crows Foundation and we have just now found time to tell you all about what we have been up to here on our Khelo Khelo Blog!

We have the most amazing team working on all our projects, which are really having a huge impact on the children we work with everyday. So it is a very big thank you to the team, but no time to rest as the next three months are going to be even more exciting.

Here goes for a mad dash through June, July, August and even a bit of September………

Khelo Rugby:

  • Has now expanded in Kolkata to 21 locations with more than 600 children regularly taking part in the programme.
  • Sessions got a little chaotic as pressure from the rugby season built up, but now that is over we are getting back to normal and making sure Coaches are keeping up with their coaching timetables.
  • The Khelo curriculum is undergoing a re-write as we learn more from our different experiences in all the locations where we work. This is a job that we can see never really ends. We are always learning, each Coach and Community brings a different dynamic, there is no one fits all solution.Oct1

Global Peace Games:Oct2

  • Conducted over three days in September (18, 19 & 20) beginning with a mini-leadership program led by Lovepreet and Akash for 20 Khelo Leaders from our Kolkata communities.
  • Day two was a Tag Rugby Festival with the participation of 200 children from 16 different locations. A record participation of sorts! Each Senior Coach was asked to bring 3 teams minimum and they all met the targets. A fun day for all involved and good job by the Khelo Leaders in leading and organizing the event and putting some of the learning from the day before into practice. Our new communities also participated in a festival for the first time.
  • Day three was a Cycle Ride organized by Pritam in association with Discover on Wheels for all the children who had received bicycles earlier in the year from Pink Bike.Oct3

Junior Rugby: 

Lots of ‘proper’ tackle rugby tournaments organised by the Crows, Future Hope and Bengal Rugby saw participation from most of our Academy players. We kicked off with a slightly mediocre performance in the Future Hope Monsoon Cup on a splendid looking #CrowField mind you! But then really picked it up with a top-notch performance in Bengal Rugby’s Under-14 tournament at CCFC where the Jungle Crows emerged Champions beating larger teams like Armenian College, KISS and Future Hope. The girls where not to be left out coming Runner’s Up in both the Women’s 10’s and Touch Rugby tournamentsPAUL PICS

Rugby is Great:

One of the highlights of the last three months was the Rugby is Great event which we organized with the British High Commission and KISS in Orissa. Ravi was sent on a one – week assignment to coach the teams and prepare for the tournament – great job by him. We also selected an Under-13 team from Kolkata after conducting our own Tag Rugby ‘qualifier’ tournament.

A 12 member team comprising children from 10 different Kolkata locations set off with coaches Kameliya and Lovepreet in charge. The event was hugely successful with the British High Commissioner Scott giving away the prizes and loads of newspaper coverage. Home team KISS emerged well deserved champions while the Khelo Rugby team were runners-up. The final was pulsating and an excellent display of rugby pre the Rugby World Cup!PAUL PICS1

Power of Display:

Oct12Our event to mark UN Youth Day saw our Khelo coaches taking on a theme and engaging with the children from their communities to come up with posters, art work or displays on those themes. Themes included Environment – Ravi, Child Rights – Kameliya, Khelo/Play – Tiger, School – Akash, Hygiene – Deep and Equal Rights – Lovepreet. Before going into the communities each Coach had to make a presentation on their theme to myself and Paul so we were sure they understood and had researched their topic.

Plenty of guests turned up on the day and the children guided by their Coaches came up with some really interesting and diverse work ensuring the event was a good one.

Jungle Crows Cupcakes from Mrs Magpie were a bonus for the super effort all round!

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In Partnership with the American Center:

In August we were invited by the  American Center in Kolkata for a film screening about girls participation in sport. This was a good chance to involve many of our girls in a different activity and let them see how other girls around the world enjoy sport just as much as they do. Oct13

A total of 8 of our Khelo Leaders have been selected for a Leadership Programme at the American Center. They will go through a 3 month training at the Center on a one class per week format. Post this they get a chance to meet US diplomats, take an internship at the American Center besides other opportunities.

What Have I learnt? 

All the coaches were given the task of preparing presentations about their last one year with JCF and all the coaches responded in a very positive way, making presentations and surprising many with their improving grasp of the English language!Oct14

Khelo Sporting League:

KSL (Khelo Sporting League) is really doing very well, giving those youngsters who have graduated from Khelo Rugby a new and interesting focus. We moved away from the location teams format we had originally started with and we now play in mixed community teams. Though the players were initially reluctant, the idea has caught on and all the youngsters are responding in a positive way. KSL now has an average turn-out of 100 to 120 youth every month and we ensure that they all have the chance to learn something new every time!PAUL PICS2Media:

Khelo Rugby and Jungle Crows has received plenty of media attention over the last one year – founder Paul being featured in Amazing Indians show of Times Now, we were on BBC World TV, on the Award Winning Scrumqueens site, and articles published at Sportskeeda

And there is more, much more that has made lots of people smile and will keep them smiling into the future. We have only just begun……

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.

Bengal Womens Team 2015

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.