India’s wheelchair cricket champions struggle for survival amidst lockdown
We celebrate their victories on the field but during the lockdown, we have forgotten our wheelchair cricketers who are struggling to make ends meet. Here are some of their stories.
Every morning, Poshan Kumar Dhruv heads to the nearest field in his village to do various odd jobs like picking up garbage or cleaning up. Hard to imagine that this is what Chhattisgarh’s star wheelchair cricket player has been reduced to, less than two years after he made his international debut playing for India in a tri-series against Pakistan and Bangladesh.
“I work in the fields from 8 am to 4 pm and do whatever I can given the disability in my left leg. I earn about Rs 150 a day and help contribute towards the household expenses”. Poshan is 21 years old and known for his excellent batting and wicketkeeping skills. “I have elderly parents and four younger siblings and have to help run the household. There are no matches being held due to the coronavirus pandemic so I do what I can to support my family”.
Struggles of star wheelchair cricketers
At Siwan, Bihar, Sanjeev Singh Rajpoot is struggling. Flood waters have inundated his village. “I have been helping my family out in the farm and our food stocks are washed away”. The 36-year-old started playing wheelchair cricket for India three years ago. Sanjeev has a spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair. An all-rounder, he has played against Nepal and Bangladesh. “I try and help out with household chores and do what I can in the field. We get by with the help of the food grains that the Modi government has been offering during this lockdown”.
At Mehru village, Punjab, getting three square meals a day is top priority for Nirmal Dhillon. 29-year-old Nirmal made his entry into national-level wheelchair cricket less than two years ago and is regarded as a star batsman and wicketkeeper. All that seems like a dream now.
“I have played against Bangladesh in the Asia Cup tri-series but now three meals a day seems a challenge”. Nirmal’s father has been in a jail in Bahrain for 15 years and he has an elderly mother and brother to support. “My brother lost his job after the lockdown and we are making ends meet by selling the milk of the two buffaloes we own”. Nirmal says he has taken many loans. “I don’t like borrowing but despite playing for India, we get no support from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) or the central government should support us”.
No support from BCCI or governments
Across India, every day, we are hearing more and more stories like these, of champion cricketers who are facing immense hardship during the pandemic.
These cricketers come from marginalised backgrounds and we all know how limited employment opportunities are for disabled people in India. The pandemic and lockdown has made things even harder for them. We have managed to give them food and other essential supplies with the help of supporters. When they reach out to us, we try and help them with the aid of NGOs. – Squadron Leader Abhai Pratap Singh (Retd), CEO, Wheelchair Cricket India
Singh coached the Indian wheelchair cricket side that won the Asia Cup in 2018. The Wheelchair Cricket India (WCI) was formed in 2015 by a group of players and the association has been nurturing the side and building support for the game. All this without any infrastructure or financial support from the BCCI, the central or state governments.
“I wrote many letters to the BCCI asking for financial assistance for wheelchair cricket but never heard from them”, says Pradeep Raj, General Secretary, WCI.
Even now doing the lockdown the WCI is reaching out to the wheelchair cricketers offering support. Among them is Santosh Ranjane, 38, who plays for Maharashtra. Apart from cricket, he earns extra income through his two-wheeler workshop. That has been shut since lockdown and he is dependent on his brother and father.
“I have a wife and two children, and we get by as my family is supportive. Apart from this, the cricket association sends us food packets on a regular basis”. The larger indifference clearly rankles. “Cricket is so loved in India, then why this indifference to disabled cricket”, asks Santosh. “The expenses for all the matches and series held so far have been borne by the association. Only last year did the BCCI extend some support to the physically challenged players for the World Cup in England”.
“I feel bad at the BCCI’s indifference”, says Aditya Chokhar, a wheelchair cricketer from Uttar Pradesh. Aditya says he is managing during the lockdown with the help of senior players and the Uttar Pradesh Wheelchair Cricket Team Captain Anmol Vashist. “It’s like after becoming a wheelchair user I am seeing a different face of the world”.
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