Climbing dreams on a wheelchair with basketball

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Kashmir’s first wheel-chair basketball player, Inshah Bashir, a native of Budgam district, who represented India in the US in 2019, and participated in the National Championship as the captain of the J&K Wheelchair Basketball Women’s team in 2019, now has her agenda crystal clear — “Besides playing and training my team, the major area of focus is to encourage differently-abled girls in sports, not just in Kashmir but across the country, and ensure that they have a say in their own lives.”

Bashir, who has been in the wheelchair ever since she was 15- years-old owing to a spinal injury stresses that it is the game that has given her something to look forward to every day. “I was depressed after my accident. There was such purposelessness I felt that time. Everything changed for me with basketball.”

Once during her physiotherapy at Shafkat Rehabilitation Center (Bemina), she witnessed J&K wheelchair players (Men) playing basketball. That changed everything for her. What followed was rigorous training and a determination to break through.

This twenty-seven-year-old who was invited by the US consulate to be part of the prestigious Sports Visitor Program in 2019 tells IANS, “From someone plagued with negativity when she met with the accident to now — Basketball has not just made me into a new person but ensures that I look forward to the next day each evening. I represented my country and have my own team now. Many differently-abled who strive to achieve tall goals despite the setbacks in their lives are in constant touch with me.”

But it has not been an easy ride for this Ted X speaker, who decided to start playing the game in 2017. Though her parents were encouraging, there was no woman’s team for the differently-abled in Kashmir at that time. Also, many people she met were pessimistic about what she could achieve. “I went to Delhi and joined their state team. We went on to play the Nationals. People around me thought that I would not be accepted because I was a hijab-wearing Kashmiri woman. On the contrary, I have always been welcomed extremely warmly wherever I went in the country. From officials to other team members, everyone was helpful. And yes, I played with the hijab, no one had a problem with that.”

Although she received offered from teams from different states to join them, Bashir, currently pursuing a Master’s in Social Work from Delhi University decided to come back to Kashmir in 2019 and make the J&K Wheelchair Basketball Women’s team. “Some boys who played in the National team helped me connect to girls. Around 12 girls joined and now there are six. I am thankful to the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India which stood by me and held a camp here in 2019.”

Bashir says a lot of her time is spent in counselling parents of differently-abled girls, not just from Kashmir, but other parts of the country too who get in touch with her through social media.

“Leave alone sports, many parents tend to pull out their girls from schools. As if these girls have lost their rights to even dream,” she says.

Looking forward to representing India in the Paralympics, Bashir laments that most public places cannot be accessed by the differently-abled. “Abroad, this was never a problem. Even the courts and stadiums they build can be used easily used by everybody. Sadly, even most shops here do not have a ramp.”

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