June 5, 2023

Great Indian Mutiny

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A new wave of disabled female athletes in India is being forced to change their outlook

Kohli is one of the bravest new generation in Indian sports.

Glossy and vibrant, 19-year-old Balak Kohli looks just like any other teenager.

That was until I walked out of the badminton court. It takes a while to soak up the show’s sporting potential with some ridiculously fast rallies and back and forth back pain. The change is almost magical.

Born with immature hands, Balak was a young Indian badminton player at the Tokyo Paralympics last summer. Getting to where he is is a difficult journey.

In many small towns and villages in India, sports awareness for children with disabilities is very low. Balak and his parents had never heard the word badminton before 2016.

A year later, after meeting an “stranger” on one occasion, he becomes his future coach, who for the first time picks up a scam. By 2019, he had won his first international championship.

“When I was a kid, I never thought of doing any sports,” he says. “I’ve heard everywhere that this doesn’t apply to me because of disability.”

“But I decided to challenge myself. He turned my disability into a better skill, and the badminton para changed my life.

Balak is one of the new breeds of disabled athletes in India

Avani Ligaram is different. At the age of 19, she became the first Indian woman to win a gold medal at the Paralympics in Tokyo. Following her success in the women’s 10m SH1 air rifle category, she won a bronze medal in the SH1 Women’s 50m 3-Level Air Rifle Class.

When she was 10 she was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident and gave her a new lease. He faced many obstacles, such as a lack of inclination in the shooting range and a lack of dedicated equipment, as well as the severe emotional trauma of his crash. But his ambition was unshakable.

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If you meet her on a windy winter morning in Jaipur city, you can tell why she is upstairs.

The monk’s discipline, the hawk’s ax, the philosopher’s attitude towards the whole, like the sage. Has everything you need.

“After my accident, my world turned upside down,” he says. “I do not want to talk to anyone. What do you expect from a 10 year old child? Before the accident I was an introvert, and I became more and more.

“Breakthrough shooting, it gave me a lot of confidence in myself.

“[But] That does not mean one will always be happy. Go in front of the mirror everyday and say, ‘This is the body I am, I love this body.’ I am talented, I can do anything, I deserve it.

BBC's best game of the year
Ligara (right, wearing glasses) is one of the nominees for the 2021 BBC Indian Female Athlete Award.

Many sports women in India face social opposition and gender discrimination when they decide to continue as an athlete. Poverty and lack of facilities are also major obstacles. Transgender people have to overcome all this.

Simran Sharma, 23, became the first Indian athlete to compete in the 100 meters at the Tokyo Paralympics. He was born prematurely and is visually impaired.

“During my childhood, I was bullied by my relatives and family members,” he says.

“Because I can not pay attention to anything, they will say terrible things like ‘This woman is looking here and talking there’. It was very painful. ”

Sharma was a normal runner at school but her parents had no way to train her. When she got married at the age of 18, the man who became her husband also became her coach.

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The local community in her husband’s village was horrified by the idea of ​​applying for a new bride instead of taking on household responsibilities.

But Sharma did not give up despite strong opposition. He won 100 meters at two world events in 2019 and 2021 at Track and Field. In Tokyo, he finished fifth in his season-best qualifying round, but lost one spot in it. The last.

He says the same family members who teased him about his disability are proud to think of him today.

“Para-sport saved me,” he adds. “It gave me a new identity and a new respect as a disabled person in a patriarchal society.”

In Rio 2016, Deepa Malik became the first Indian woman to win a silver medal at the Paralympics. At last summer’s Tokyo Games, women represented less than 30%, but when the country sent the largest delegation in its history, it won the first gold medal in the women’s competition.

Other competitors include 34-year-old Pavina Patel, who made history by becoming the first Indian to win a table tennis medal at the Paralympics.

Disabled athletes have never received so much attention in the Indian media. But success means things start to change. There has also been a gradual change in the social outlook.

Lizara is optimistic.

“Being an athlete is hard,” he says. “We have fewer opportunities, but whatever opportunities they have, Indian athletes are doing very well and there will be equal medals for both sexes in the future.

“It simply came to our notice then. But we are on the right track and we have a bright future.