Days before his final test match, Sachin Tendulkar ensured the entrance to Wankhede stadium is wheelchair-friendly for his mother’s visit. We asked some cricket-crazy persons with disability what they felt about it…
By MALAY DESAI
It’s a weekend of many firsts. It’s the first time this decade that a cricket test is getting the attention, it is a first when millions are watching one man spend his last days at work…and it should just be the first time many of them, mostly grown-ups, will find themselves crying, either in solitude or in full public view when the man makes the long walk back home. That said, in a non-descript entrance to the nucleus of this all, the Wankhede stadium of Mumbai, his mother has been making her first trip in 25 years to watch him play. Facilitating her wheelchair up to the President’s Box is a specially installed ramp, because, well, she’s Sachin Tendulkar’s mother. To point out that this usually isn’t the case for commoners and to question this preferential treatment will only be a folly. A cricketer who’s played for the time he has and has become nothing less than an institution is entitled to move mountains for his octogenarian mother Rajni, a wheelchair user. And as we saw from the first day’s play, even Tendulkar’s coach, Ramakant Achrekar didn’t mind the ramp while being wheel-chaired up the stadium. That said it’s an important moment to notice that the prime enclosure of this stadium, which also houses the headquarters of the richest sporting body of the world, was not equipped to carry a wheelchair user. And that’s not really shocking.
Truth is, we live amidst an infrastructure where public transport, most government offices and places of leisure are not friendly toward persons with disability – whether wheelchair users or not; sporting venues is still a long shot. We are also amidst a culture where ramps get installed, lifts get setup and railings emerge overnight if influential powers want them to. Not that it’s comforting, but this tendency to wield one’s importance in the public sphere is a universal truth, although India doesn’t rank to high in being disability friendly. Prasad Phanasgaonkar, a Mumbaikar with quadriplegia who designs travel-friendly wheelchairs, compares the Master Blaster to Stephen Hawking while talking of influence. “Tendulkar, Stephen Hawkins are people who have the power to have wheelchair accessibility in institutions reluctant to implement guidelines. Such institutions have a mindset of making temporary ramps but aren’t really concerned. Their attitude becomes our problem, not theirs.” And attitude it is, that shows its not-so-pretty face in Indian cities. So while trains and buses have mandatory reservations for persons with disability, that the authorities don’t do much to improve accessibility to railway stations and at bus stops is an attitude problem. Nilesh Singit, a disability rights advocate, consultant and someone who lives with cerebral palsy (a group of movement disorders caused by damage to the brain) is more vocal over this moot point. “Sachin may not be aware but there are many persons with disability who are his fans. Spare a thought for those who’ve been born blind, have never seen him play but still continue to love him. Let’s not forget he is a Member of Parliament. If he truly wishes, he can make the right moves towards making sporting venues more accessible.” It’s not just about a ramp, we realise after speaking with him, what about the toilets? In fact, when was the last time you came across a urinal with wheelchair access? As the last hurrahs are made at Wankhede this weekend and a legend bows out on a high, it will take a while to sink in that there might not be another Tendulkar. But the worry that there might not be another ramp at an Indian cricket stadium is more fearsome for many.
(The above article is a part of the THIS-ABILITY series, an initiative of NGO, TRINAYANI, founded by Ritika Sahni and working towards disability awareness and support. Visit www.trinayani.org or write to us at email@example.com)
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