20-year-old Sandhya Rai has achieved the rare feat of being one amongst the 32 selected Asian sportswomen to promote women's rugby in an international platform.
Daughter of a tea garden labourer in North Bengal, Sandhya has been named under 'India's Unstoppables' in a global campaign to promote the sport by World Rugby, its governing body.
World Rugby's 'Unstoppable' campaign was launched to create awareness and enhance participation by initiating dialogue through inspiring stories of women and girls involved in rugby at all levels of the game.
The stories of these players are tied through a common thread— breaking the glass ceiling by participating and showing how rugby played a key role in empowering them.
"From the highest levels of the sport's governance to grassroots participation, we are wholly committed to driving gender-balance and ensuring that women have equal opportunities both on and off the field, driving increased involvement and engagement in the women's game from fans, audiences, players and investors," World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont had said during the launch of the campaign last year, reported Asia Rugby.
From tea garden to the rugby pitch
Sandhya had a humble beginning, being born and brought up near Baikanthapur forest, east of Siliguri. Belonging to a family who earns their livelihood by working in a tea garden, she had to brave the odds to choose a different path after finishing school.
Father Mathew, while he was in charge of the Don Bosco Ashalayam in Kolkata, had witnessed the impact of the sport in changing the lives of the youngsters. So when he was in the village, he thought that the game could also motivate the children and keep them off the wrong path.
According to The Times of India, in 2013, several players from the Jungle Crows, an amateur rugby team in Kolkata were invited to train some of the kids in the village which proved to be the tipping point.
Sandhya and her friends discovered the power of the sport and sooner realised that through excelling in the game, they held the key to a different and glorious future.
Nine girls from this remote village overcame hardships through passion and dedication and have played rugby for India. On Wednesday, December 23, Sandhya was announced as India's Unstoppable.
As per the reports, Sandhya has also launched 'Pass For Passion', a campaign by the Jungle Crows to raise funds for their Khelo Rugby project aimed to create opportunities for young players.
Rugby In India
A number of reports have pointed out that rugby, as a sport, has been instrumental in lifting people from the country's remote, and tribal areas.
It has not only lifted them off poverty but also aided in earning laurels for the country. Actor-director Rahul Bose who is also an international rugby player has been championing the cause and promoting the sport for a long time.
"Wherever sports can improve societies, it is fantastic. Even after representing India for so many years, I can see that rugby is played mostly by Adivasis. I am not only talking about grassroots. Both our men and women's national teams have 60% or more of their representations from the Adivasi communities. If you don't see the social transformation here, then what do you see?" the actor had said at one of the sports-award ceremonies.
17-year-old Sumitra Nayak and 26-year-old Vahbiz Bharucha are the other two players selected alongside Sandhya to represent India in the campaign.
Sumitra who hails from Odisha has lived through a journey of shanty slums to being hailed as a queen of rugby. Meanwhile, Bharucha, a freelance physiotherapist, learnt about the sport during a summer camp at school.