At margins of society, wolves on the rugby field
“Rugby has helped me be more focussed” said Vimlesh, in between push-ups at her training session.
On Saturday morning, 20-year-old Vimlesh pushes boys aside, runs with a peculiar ball in hand and charges to the tryline for the touchdown.
“It is hard to play rugby being a bahu (daughter-in-law) and a mother,” she said. “Neighbours talk and instigate my family against me. All this causes problems but that doesn’t deter me.” After her two-hour training session at the Jasola Sports Complex, she headed to houses in south Delhi where she works as a domestic help.
Vimlesh is one among the 18 girls who are a part of the rugby team, created by a city based NGO which focuses on imparting life skills to youngsters from the marginalised communities. The team, which calls itself Wolfpack, is comprised of 60 members — most of whom are school dropouts, informal workers, slum-dwellers, and street-children from areas like Jasola, Madanpur Khadar, Nizamuddin basti and Jamia Nagar. The team assembles every weekend to practice and has been doing so over a year.
Roshni, 17, a domestic help, was not even allowed to wear tees and trousers since all the women in her family only wore traditional salwar kameez. “Barely two days ago, they forced me to quit playing again and wanted to get me married,” she said with moist eyes. Pinky intervenes to cheer her up, “We won’t let that happen.”
Not all girls in the team, however, faced resistance. “My family has not objected to my games. I want to make my father proud and make a name for myself,” said Maya, 18.
Founder and coach Saif Ullah Khan, 23, a national-level rugby player himself, said the sport pulled him out of depression and substance abuse. So, when he came across children with anger management issues, he wanted to help them. Co-founder Yusra Khan,28, stepped in with her expertise in social work to integrate sports with issue-based learning and imparting life skills to these children.
The two have been inducting street-children into their rugby team. Convincing people, however, is not easy. “Nobody knows about rugby. We had to conduct multiple drives to get them on board,” Saif said.
Saif always asks his students to leave their other identities — gender, religion, caste and class — behind when they enter the field. Is it difficult to get teenagers from marginalised backgrounds to play a contact-sport? “We explained the concept of consent, control and choice; good touch, bad touch and how to interact with the opposite gender,”he said.
Dressed in a yellow T-shirt with a tiger on the front, 14-year-old Pinky on Saturday tore into her opponent on Saturday. “Aaj toh maine kisiki t-shirt bhi phaar di (I tore somebody’s t-shirt today),” she said. “Sir has taught us to not care about our gender and just play,” said the class 9 student who studies in a government school in Madanpur Khadar and wants to be an international rugby player. “The game has taught me how to respect others, channelise anger and be disciplined,” she said.
The sentiment is common among all female players, most of whom are informal workers. “Rugby has helped me be more focussed” said Vimlesh, in between push-ups at her training session. “The male players here have never misbehaved with us. Only our family and neighbours have made an issue out of it,” she said adding that she would continue playing because she wanted a better future for her and her two-year-old.