CHENNAI: Gone are the times when people with disability were stuck at home, when they were denied opportunities the society would afford to normal people, when they had little knowledge about where to go for help. Sometimes, it was even considered as curse.
We now live in a world where T Mariyappan and Devendra Jhajharia win gold at the Paralympics, hence breaking said stereotypes and becoming torchbearers for 2.1 per cent of the country’s population (according to 2011 census), a section still fighting everyday battles silently.
Age and disability are no barriers for those determined to achieve big. Sweety Bagga is a 54-year-old wheelchair basketball player from Hyderabad who was selected for the national training camp in Chennai that was held from June 17 to 23. The camp was a trial for the Indian squad that will participate at an international tournament in Bali, Indonesia, from July 27 to 31. The event has no age-limit for participation.
She is a mother of two, grandmother to one, and is taking care of her husband’s business at Jubilee Hills back home. She is also hoping to make the Indian squad for Bali, a decision that will be made once the camp gets over. “During our early days, we never had any opportunity, that too in sports. I attended the camp conducted by Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India (WBFI) to spread awareness about the game. When I first talked about the sport to movement-impaired teens back home, they were hesitant to participate because they wanted me to play too. I started playing it two years back just to support them, but it had now become a passion,” says the oldest among the campers, and who had her legs amputated 34 years ago.
If making physically challenged people come forward and play is a humongous task, funding them is an even more onerous deal. “One wheelchair for sports activities itself costs around Rs. 32,000. The major concern for WBFI is forming state associations. There are players from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Telangana and many other states who participated at the nationals. But because there are no state associations, the national body had to finance every team, which is very difficult,” she adds.
“Even after two decades of The Persons with Disabilities Act (1995) being introduced, we can say we don’t excel in helping out the disabled. We don’t see all restaurants being accessible to us. Even during tournaments, we travel to many cities that lack basic amenities for our people,” she explains.
It is an early phase for the sport in India. But what they can be proud of is that this is the first team sport (physically challenged) from India (men or women) that took part at an international event, in the Asia Oceania Zonal Championship in Thailand this year. There are three women from Tamil Nadu — Madhavi Latha, Kalyani Jayaraman and R Shanthy — who are founding members of WBFI.
What is encouraging is that Australian wheelchair basketball player and Paralympics gold medallist Bradley John Ness is training Indian players, with the Australian Consulate being sponsors for the women’s team.
Know the sportWheelchair basketball is basketball played by people with varying physical disabilities that disqualify them from playing an able-bodied sport. These include spina bifida, birth defects, cerebral palsy, paralysis due to accident, amputations (of the legs, or other parts) and many other disabilities.
The International Wheelchair Basketball Federation has recognised WBFI (Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India), and it’s placed under the Asia Oceania Zone. The Paralympic Committee of India has given affiliation to WBFI to organise and promote wheelchair basketball in India.
India competed at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and bagged four medals (two gold, one silver and one bronze), with Mariyappan and Jhajharia leading the charge.