In Pics: No Dream Too Big For These Wheelchair Basketball Players
“People with disabilities are vulnerable because of the many barriers we face: attitudinal, physical, and financial. Addressing these barriers is within our reach and we have a moral duty to do so… But most important, addressing these barriers will unlock the potential of so many people with so much to contribute to the world.”
According to WHO report on Disability, 15% of the world population lives with some form of a disability. The 2011 Census states that 2.21% (approx. 2.68 crore people) of the Indian population is “disabled”.
Disability rights activist disagree with these figures and argue that the numbers in the census are a very small percentage of the actual figures. Their disability is often seen as their “inability” because of the preconceived notions about their capabilities thus leading to their isolation from the mainstream.
In order to break the “inability” stereotype, I’ve focused on three Wheelchair Basketball players – Inshah Basheer, Rishabh Singh and Mohammad Fahim. Wheelchair Basketball is a nascent sport in India with the official Indian Wheelchair Federation receiving recognition by the Sports Authority of India just three years ago.
The challenges which are faced by the players while pursuing this sport are many – lack of adequate sports wheelchair being the major one which is primarily because of the increase in price due to imposition of GST at the rate of 5% whereas the input materials attract GST at the rate of 18%.
In 2015, the government introduced the “Accessible India” campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan) to make India more accessible for Persons with Disabilities (PWD) but the reality is a far cry from the claims of the government.
Through my project, I’ve tried to highlight how despite all the shortcomings, these people have risen above their situation and moved on in their lives. The common thread which binds them together is their indomitable spirit which inspires them to lead a life with dignity.
Inshah Basheer is the first female Wheelchair Basketball player from the Valley. Hailing from Budgam, Srinagar, she fell from the balcony of her under-construction house at the age of 15 and became wheelchair-bound for life. However, the incident didn’t act as a deterrent in her career. She witnessed a group of boys playing basketball at the rehabilitation centre in Srinagar and that’s how her journey with basketball began.
Her passion for the sport and the grit to do something worthwhile in life made her qualify to the national team in 2017 where she was discovered by coach Varun Ahlawat.
She shifted her base from Srinagar to Delhi and is now teaching at Amar Jyoti School where she practices the sport daily. Inshah hasn’t looked back ever since. She’ll now be representing India abroad and shall be participating in “Sports Visitor Program (SVP) for Wheelchair Basketball Coaches and Administrators” which will take place in the United States.
Speaking of her future aspirations, she says that she wishes to train young girls from the Valley to become national level players. The lack of opportunities in the Valley was one of the major reasons behind her shift from Srinagar to Delhi. “I don’t want other girls to face what I faced. I want to be a role-model for them and encourage them to take up the sport and not think of themselves as just a burden. A person’s disability shouldn’t become their inability.”
Rishabh was introduced to wheelchair basketball by his teachers at Amar Jyoti School. Being wheelchair-bound since a very young age, he says that basketball has given him a purpose in life. However, the road hasn’t been very smooth for him either. He says, “One of the key challenges which we, players, have to face is the lack of funding and lack of good sports wheelchairs. Adding to that there’s also lack of good coaches.”
Having represented India in Thailand, he wishes to win a gold medal for India in the future. He aspires to become a basketball coach.
Hailing from a family in Seelampur, Delhi, Fahim’s basketball journey too began at Amar Jyoti School. He’s currently a part of the national team and recently represented India in Lebanon. He wishes to study further so that he can help his brothers in expanding their family business.
(Sarah Khan is a journalism student at AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia.)