Touch Rugby is a game derived from rugby football in which players do not tackle each other but instead touch their opponents using their hands on any part of the body, clothing or the ball. In Plan India’s ‘Safer Cities for Girls’ programme, the sport is used to enhance gender equality, encourage girls’ participation and more importantly, claim back and have equal access to public spaces.
In Mongolpuri, New Delhi, Plan India and its NGO partners have worked together to hone the skills of adolescents and youth. Of the 70 players currently enrolled, four have been selected for the National Touch Rugby team and will represent India at the Youth Touch Rugby Championship in Malaysia. Girls now comprise 40% of the national squad which is an impressive feat!
Many players shared that earlier, their parents were not supportive of them playing. They did not want their daughters to step out of their houses and play alongside boys; they feared stigma and taboo. But now, with a considerable number of girls representing India, gender stereotypes are gradually being smashed. Nisha, a player shares, “Our friend Nidhi was an excellent player, she was a natural, but after six months, her parents refused to let her play. They want to get her married off and think playing with boys will hamper her chances of finding a ‘good groom’.”
This emotion resonates not only among girls but also among boys. Kushal shares,“Our coach goes to the home of every player and tries to convince their parents to let their children play. At times, parents are convinced and at times they refuse. We want our team to be strong and losing good players is always heartbreaking!”
The game has also taught players to be mindful of their nutrition. During the first few days of enrollment, many girls and boys complained of tiredness and fatigue. After various consultations, the coach drew up a nutritional and dietary plan for every player. Now, the players understand the value of a healthy lifestyle. Nisha remarks, “Earlier, we used to eat one roti or junk food like momos throughout the day, but now we know the importance of healthy food. Our stamina and on-field performance are directly linked to our diet. During the first few weeks of practice, all of us, including boys could hardly complete a one kilometre lap, now we can easily take 4-5 laps during warm up.”
Apart from convincing and bringing attitudinal changes in their families, the girls and boys had to also negotiate with the local government to get access to a community stadium for practice. They got a field after much advocacy with the local body and now they are tasked with maintaining the grounds. The stadium which was once inhabited by drug peddlers and cattle, and had foot-long weeds, is now clean, marked by touch rugby players. Each one of them took up the task to clean the field, right from de-weeding to covering potholes and most importantly, sensitising the community to not misuse the ground – they have come a long way.
Teamwork, mutual respect and equal opportunity for girls is what these players want. With more girls having access to equal opportunities, the project is ensuring that girls are empowered to make life decisions and become skilled enough to pursue a career in sports or in any other field.
Images are the property of Plan International (India Chapter) Photos by Debanjana Choudhuri for Plan India
Plan India is a nationally registered not for profit organisation striving to advance children’s rights and equality for girls, thus creating a lasting impact in the lives of vulnerable and excluded children and their communities.