Neha Pardeshi is the captain of the Indian women’s national team, and one of the pillars of women’s rugby in Asia.
Having had such an impact since starting to play at the age of fifteen, she was recently invited to educate some of the country’s most renowned sports writers on cricket, football and golf, about rugby.
They had seen one of her recent posts on women’s rugby and had been inspired to understand more about the game and to learn how it is growing in the country, so they could write about it.
And how has the sport grown in India?
“When I started about nine years ago, we used to have only club tournaments,” explained Pardeshi.
“Now we have so much more. With the help of volunteers and Get Into Rugby, people know what rugby is. People are going out of their way to make it more of a national sport.
“Most schools in the country are now playing it.”
Pardeshi is an inspiration to many others in India. She is part of the increasing movement helping to drive women’s participation in the sport and sees a bright future ahead of rugby in India.
“Rugby is definitely here to stay in India.
“I see a very bright future for rugby in India. People are more and more aware of it. Where I go to coach, the mothers are coming up to me, saying I want my daughter to play rugby.
“That change is happening now. Mothers and fathers are coming and saying rugby is such an amazing sport.
“When I look at the grassroots, they are amazing. They are improving day by day. In five to six years we could be in the top five in Asia. I really see the future of rugby in India as very bright and I am trying to spread it far and wide.
“For me, if I had a daughter, I would only put her into rugby even if she wanted to play any other sport. Because I know what values it has, and how it moulds a person. I have seen it happening to me and it’s sure to be in the genes.
Pardeshi has always been into sport and has been an athlete from a very young age, but it is rugby that stole her heart.
In her 10th grade she was approached by the pioneer Surhud Khare, who she credits the beginning or rugby in India to, and has never looked back since.
“He [Khare] came to my school and he asked me to come and watch a rugby game. I went, and when I saw it, I was like ‘wow, what is this sport’. The next day I went and started training.
“It [rugby] means everything to me. Today, the person I am is because of this sport. It has given me so much confidence and courage, and the attitude to look at things in life, to tackle challenges.
“Everybody says it but it is true, rugby is not just a sport, it is a way of life. Every time you get down, you need to get back up and that is what rugby teaches you. I am now ten times a better person than I was.”
And what about captaining the national side?
“It is amazing to be captain. I can never express it in words. I was part of the first national team that went to Thailand in 2009, and I was even the youngest.
“Since then I have been part of it all the way. Every time I play, I am so nervous, but it is amazing representing my country.
“I saw a lot of the Women’s Rugby World Cup on Facebook, and so too the sevens. I get goose bumps watching and I hope one day I can be at that level. It would such an amazing experience.”