07 Sept 2012
The London Paralympics illustrate how physical disability is no hindrance to excellence. Closer home, Mahantesh Ghativalappa, president of the Federation of Organisations for Rehabilitation of the Disabled, and an academic trained in English literature, is helping to organise India’s first T20 World Cup for the visually impaired. Australia, England, New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies, Sri Lanka and other nations will be participating. Speaking with Meenakshi Sinha, Mahantesh discussed India’s responsiveness to persons with physical disabilities, how government, NGOs and the private sector can combine efforts in this field – and why sports is vital in overcoming disability and loneliness:
How did you lose your vision? And how did you cope thereafter?
I lost my vision at the age of six when i had a virulent attack of typhoid. Initially, it was hard for my parents to accept this challenge. However, it was their support and care that helped me pursue my education, first at a blind school in Bangalore. Following this, i went to a regular college. That, to a large extent, shaped who i am today.
How responsive is India, with its policies, public behaviour and private attitudes, towards people with physical challenges?
Although issues related to disability are being addressed and there is general awareness, we still have a long way to go to make the nation disabilityfriendly. Equal opportunities need to be created – rather than sympathising with a person’s handicap.
In partnership with private and government bodies, NGOs can build programmes that create awareness and capacity of people with disabilities (PWDs) to access opportunities. Firstly, educational institutions need to create more opportunities to bring disabled kids on–board. After my MA and MPhil in English, i began teaching in Bangalore. I then decided to set up Samarthanam, a trust for the disabled. This runs schools with an inclusive model which has beneficiaries from diverse socio–economic backgrounds, different disabilities, etc. Our higher education programmes are created to build confidence among disabled children and help them achieve 100% out of life.
We also run computer training centres and BPO call centre trainings along with placement facilities enabling disabled kids to access jobs. Our most recent initiative was the rural BPO which provides employment to rural youth on par with their urban counterparts, enabling a life of dignity and confidence.
Private players should support these initiatives. Laws do exist about reservations of jobs for PWDs – but these must be driven more qualitatively. Government and private bodies, along with the community, can create many more opportunities through inclusive education and job openings, which is vital.
How did the idea of a T20 cricket tournament for the visually challenged emerge?
Well, i greatly enjoy playing cricket as does the co–founder of Samarthanam, Nagesh, who’s also visually impaired. Both of us were involved in organising two World Cups and 20 nationallevel cricket tournaments for the blind. In 2011, the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI) bagged hosting rights at a World Blind Cricket Council meeting for the World Cup to be held here in 2012. To make matches exciting for the audience and challenging for players, CABI decided to introduce the T20 format. It is my belief this is a great project.
Being visually challenged, the only way to follow cricket matches earlier was through radio commentary – being with others who have a similar disability and knowing you are not alone in this world can help visually challenged people gain confidence and overcome their difficulty. Cricket requires strategy, calculation and team spirit – these are big life skills as well.