As India changes, every stereotype you and I harboured about the nation is being challenged. You thought Indians didn’t play rugby? You thought rugby was played by the Anglicized elite in the posh schools of India’s big cities? You thought women in India didn’t play rugby? As Jyoti Yadav explains in this piece, you are wrong, wrong and wronger. The state of Bihar has catalysed a remarkable revolution in India:
“In Bihar, hundreds of girls…are embracing the sport, upending the stereotype popularised by the adage that rugby is a game for hooligans, played by gentlemen.
In many rural pockets of India, it is now no longer a game played by men or elites, but by young, poor village women called Shweta, Sweety, Beauty, Kavita and Sapna. Bihar won in both the junior and senior categories at the Rugby National Championship in 2022, defeating Odisha in the former category and West Bengal in the latter.
It is a feat that has been a decade in the making — from a lone ranger coach’s search for talent to convincing conservative parents to send their daughters to explaining rugby to cricket-crazy Indians to getting the Bihar government to root for them.”
The man at the centre of this revolution is a civil servant named Pankaj Kumar: “As a state-level athlete, Pankaj Kumar was drawn to the beauty and power of the game. So when he got a government job under the state’s sports quota in 2012, popularising the sport in Bihar became his mission.
He started touring the state in his capacity as secretary of Bihar’s Athletics Association. His mission was to find boys and girls with speed and strength. It was almost like a page out of the Bollywood blockbuster Chak De — the assembling of talent.”
Bihar’s girls have over the past five years won first national and then international recognition and a gaggle of medals. As a result, they have become household names in Bihar. For example, Sweety Kumari from the town of Barh: “Sweety has won international acclaim, bagging the International young player of the year award from Scrumqueens in 2019. She has also been dubbed the ‘fastest player in the continent’ by Asia Rugby, the governing body of the rugby union in Asia.”
As a result, Pankaj Kumar no longer has to beg parents to let their daughters play rugby.
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