indian sport

From Siliguri’s tea gardens to Paris, India’s girls’ rugby team is covering more than just miles

A group of 12 girls is set to represent India at the Rugby Sevens Under-18 girls’ event at the Paris World Games between July 8-9.

Rugby is not a popular sport in India, but it is handing girls in remote pockets of the eastern part of the country a purpose in life and helping them surpass societal inequities that dog the gender in most parts of the country.

From the tea gardens in Siliguri to a village in Odisha, the physically taxing game of rugby is attracting a number of young girls who are ready to get their hands dirty while getting into the rough and tumble of it all.

On Thursday, a few of them will transcend all such hurdles and get a chance to represent their country in an international tournament. Twelve players, most of whom come from underprivileged backgrounds will travel to France and represent India at the Rugby Sevens Under-18 event at the Paris World Games.

For 17-year-old Sumitra Nayak – captain of India’s junior rugby team – Paris was just a dream. Hailing from a village in Odisha to becoming the captain of the Indian team has not been an easy one. Nayak was a toddler when her father abandoned her family. Her mother was left with three children to bring up. Life has been tough but Nayak doesn’t regret any bit of it.

“In my family, I have a younger brother and a younger sister along with my mother. My father abandoned us and got married to someone else. Then, we shifted to Bhubaneswar where my mother used to work as a maid.”

However, when Nayak was 10, she did meet her father and that was the last time ever. “I met my father for the first time when I was 10. My mother said no when I asked her if I could go see him. But, then I did get to meet him. He worked as a labourer back then,” said Nayak.

Rugby happened in 2008 and since then Nayak has never looked back. Paris isn’t her first trip abroad. Nayak flew to England to play in the under-14 Rugby championships at the Allianz Park.

Sumitra Nayak
Sumitra Nayak

Rugby in the tea gardens

However, the same cannot be said for the five girls from West Bengal who will be travelling abroad for the first time. Their passports had arrived just last week.

For Rima Oraon, Lachmi Oraon, Punam Oraon, Sandhya Rai and Suman Oraon, Rugby was a sport they had to play without their families knowing. Their parents work in the tea gardens, in a village where a herd of elephants often drop by. Belonging to Saraswatipur, near Siliguri these group of teenagers, however, fought the odds to play the sport.

The conservative approach of rural life in India was the main hurdle.

“Initially, we didn’t tell our parents that we are going to train for rugby. It was only later they found out that we are playing a sport which they didn’t even understand. They stopped us from playing the sport. Some said it is not good because we wear small dresses,” said Lachmi.

Some villagers even thought that the people who taught these girls rugby would eventually sell them.

“Once during a club game we had to travel to Odisha, so then people said that ‘these people will sell you by luring you and promising you to take you out of this place’. It was only after we started playing in district then state level competitions that we could convince them that we are not cheating them. We have been playing rugby for four years now,” said Sandhya.

However, once winning trophies became a habit the villagers realised their folly. “The thinking has changed. The villagers who used to make fun of us when we came back winning tournaments by questioning us, ‘where did you purchase the trophy and medals from?’ This cannot be for real. I am sure you are doing all this to show off. They are the same people who take pride in our achievements today,” said Suman.

From left: Suman Oraon, Lachmi Oraon, Rima Oraon, Punam Oraon and Sandhya Rai.
From left: Suman Oraon, Lachmi Oraon, Rima Oraon, Punam Oraon and Sandhya Rai.

The Eiffel tower

Now all they can think about is playing the sport they love in Paris. “We have only heard about the Eiffel Tower,” said Punam.

“In Paris I know about this big tower that everyone has told to see. I don’t know the name but I will definitely go and see it. I have seen it on television and I am eager to see it. It was my dream. I play and study. With Rugby I get to travel also and meet foreigners also. I get to learn a lot of from the exposure I get,” said Nayak.

“I will get something I like for my mother and I will get a lot of chocolates for my brother and sister.”

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.