Located on the eastern fringes of the city, Dhapa, Kolkata’s oldest and largest dumping ground, is an island of talent where champions are being made. Between sifting through the city’s waste to earn a living, the girls and boys of Dhapa practice day and night, and their teams have already won a few local and national tournaments.
“Earlier, when we used to go to school, we had to bear the stigma of being a ‘Dhapa girl’. Other students used to look down upon us. But rugby has changed all that and today, we feel proud,” said Srabanti Sardar, a student of Choubhaga High School and one of the best players of the women’s rugby team.
Most of the players come from Anantadal, a slum located in the heart of Dhapa and notorious for crime and violence. Most of the kids here dropped out of school and took to narcotics. Drug trafficking and child abuse were rampant. But all that began to change when, a few years back, an Ireland-based organisation called GOAL decided to set things right.
GOAL has been working in West Bengal for nearly four decades now. School dropouts were gradually brought back to classrooms and sports such as rugby and netball were encouraged. A local outfit, DAS, was roped in to scout talent.
Football is the most popular sport in Kolkata and the city is often touted to be the hub of Indian football. However, GOAL has its headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, which is well known for the sport.
“We have brought trainers from an organisation called Jungle Crows, who train these children in rugby and netball. We also plan to introduce football very soon,” said Alivia Biswas, GOAL senior programme officer (health).
“We now have a pool of nearly 20 boys and girls, who not only go to school but are being trained in rugby and netball every Wednesday and Friday. We have already won at least five championships in three years,” said Konika Mondol, 19, taking a break from her afternoon training session.
The rugby team has participated in several tournaments, ranking third in the One-Nation-Rugby Cup early this year and coming in fourth at the National Inter School Netball championship, 2014.