A sport is a lot of things to a lot of people. But for its ardent followers it’s a religion, an obsession and an outlet for their emotions. But for a bunch of Kashmiri girls, it’s an escape from the harsh realities of their society.
The Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), which was famously called ‘Paradise on earth’ by Amir-e-Khusru Dehluvi a renowned Sufi poet, is but a glimpse of its glorious past today.
Rugby is bringing a ray of hope to village girls in Kashmir which is mostly in the news that spoils the image of the beautiful state for reasons like militancy and cross border terrorism.
There is also the issue of a patriarchal mindset that’s embedded in the wider society in the valley, which forbids girls from playing any sports. But a few determined Kashmiri girls are trying to break these societal shackles and prove to themselves more than to anyone else that given the right guidance, encouragement and incentive, no barrier physical, psychological or societal is strong enough to stop them from achieving their goals.
In their own words, the girls gain confidence by playing rugby. And that confidence can be contagious which can cascade into other aspects of their life. Some become exceptional players and at a later stage take up coaching as well, sometimes voluntarily of which there a few encouraging examples.
This is how rugby is bringing redemption for these brave girls, a platform that elevates their pride and confidence in themselves, and helps break stereotypes in a patriarchal society.
According to conservative estimates there are 300 girls playing Rugby in the Kashmir valley. But the future of rugby seems to be bright in J&K, and results are there to prove it.
Last February at the 3rd National Snow Rugby Sevens Championship both the J&K men’s and women’s rugby teams won the championship. The efforts of J&K Rugby Association is commendable in engaging the young people of the state in a sport that stays under the radar across the country while other sports like cricket, hockey and football constantly hog the limelight.
Even this dark cloud has a silver lining. Slowly but steadily people across the country are beginning to explore this incredible sport thanks to the ‘Get into Rugby’ program that was initiated by World Rugby to promote and grow the sport globally, which The Indian Rugby Football Union (IRFU)/Rugby India, has strongly taken forward since 2012.
The program is focused on introducing Rugby to enthusiasts and throws light on the values of the game – Integrity, Respect, Solidarity, Passion and Discipline, which has caught on with millions of youngsters across the world as a great team sport.
As per the World Rugby’s Get into Rugby (GIR) Statistic report 2017, India finished at the 1st position in Asia to have seen highest participation in the GIR programs and came in 3rd position globally. With Gold Coast Commonwealth Games around the corner, it is interesting to observe that our southern neighbour in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka finds itself in Pool D for the Men’s Rugby Sevens along with mighty Fiji, Wales and Uganda.
No Asian team made the cut for the Women’s Rugby Sevens. Let’s not forget that Rugby Sevens is also an Olympic sport. If India can invest more time and money in rugby and nurture it at the grass roots level perhaps introduce in schools and create adequate infrastructure, who knows future Commonwealth and Olympic medalists could rise to the occasion.
Japan has the privilege of hosting the ninth Rugby World Cup next year. This is the first time the tournament will be held in Asia and the way rugby is catching up across the world, especially in Asia it certainly won’t be the last time either.
In a country like India with size of continental dimensions and population of over a billion people, a few global sports shouldn’t have a monopoly. With enough exposure, encouragement and participation, rugby can capture and captivate the imagination of this country that could in time give other sports a run for their money.