Rugby might be an awkward game for many Indians. Running with an egg-shaped ball in your hand and dashing to the touchline, you need to ensure you don’t get wrestled down by your opponent but pass backwards. Perhaps that is the reason why the game is not popular among the masses and the urban population.
But, the tribal areas in the country are picking up the sport slowly and the core of both men’s and women’s national teams till date are composed of them.
“Wherever sports can improve societies, it is fantastic. Even after representing India for so many years, I can see that rugby is played mostly by Adivasis. I am not only talking about grassroots. Both our men and women’s national teams have 60% or more of their representations from the Adivasi communities. If you don’t see the social transformation here, then what do you see?,” Rahul Bose said at the Indian Sports Honors Award Ceremony in Mumbai.
“It’s just fantastic how sport can uplift those who are not as privileged as the others. That’s an unintended but beautiful, glorious effort of sports,” added the Bollywood actor.
The sport was difficult to catch for a bunch of 13-year-old tribal kids as well. But, coach Sanjay Patra took the challenge to train them and under six months, the students of KISS International School clinched the U-14 Rugby World Cup representing India in 2007.
A movie ‘Jungle Cry’ was made on them which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May. The team comprised of players who came from some of the most backward districts of Odisha and could barely speak any language apart from Odiya.
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The Indian Men’s Rugby Team
Riding on the success of U-14 Rugby World Cup, the players went on to represent India’s senior team and uplifted themselves from abject poverty.
One such player is Chittoranjan Murmu, who hails from the Sundargarh district of Odisha. Continuing on his progress, he became the first tribal boy from Odisha to get a permanent job in the Indian Army following his splendid display for the India U-19 rugby team and representing India regularly in the senior team.
The players have given it back to their family. They no longer live in the remotest part of the country and have shifted to cities.
The Indian Women’s Rugby team
The story is the same for the women as well. The India Women’s Rugby team recently picked up their first international 15s win and clinched the bronze medal at the Asia Rugby Women’s Championship Division 1. Of the 26-member squad, five players are from KISS, a residential institute for the tribal students.
Parbhati Kisku, the youngest of the lot aged at 18, was even named as the best player at the Asia Sevens Trophy held in Brunei last year. Raised by a single mother, it was Sumitra Nayak’s heroics that clinched the tie for the country after her penalty kick in the dying minutes of the game gave India the lead.
In terms of achieving results at the international stage, India has lots of ground to cover in rugby. But, the fact that the sport is giving tribal people hope and letting them out of poverty is a good start.