How a women’s wheelchair basketball team brings hope to Kashmir



Inshah Bashir began training with the men’s wheelchair basketball team in Srinagar, India, after falling from the third floor of her home in Kashmir and losing mobility in her legs.

“The first time I put the basketball in the net, all my negative thoughts disappeared,” she says. “I had won a new goal.”

Why we wrote this

In Kashmir, where traditional culture and lack of resources prevent women with disabilities from leading independent lives, a wheelchair basketball team is giving hope.

Ms Bashir has since traveled around the world to compete in tournaments, and she is now the captain of Kashmir’s first women’s wheelchair basketball team.

Having a local team makes basketball more accessible to Kashmiri women, who otherwise would need to travel to pursue a sporting career. The stories of Ms. Bashir and her teammates show how adaptive sports can be a gateway to greater independence. And for young women facing a new disability, just seeing themselves reflected on the pitch can have a huge impact.

When Humera Ashraf damaged her spinal cord in 2020, the injury pushed the teenage medical student into solitary confinement. But during a visit to the Shafaqat Rehabilitation Center, she was hopeful that the women’s wheelchair basketball team would use the facility for training.

“It was here that I met other women who helped me realize that my life was far from over,” says Ms Ashraf, who has since joined the team.

Srinagar, India

Inshah Bashir was just 15 when she fell from the third floor of her house under construction in Kashmir’s Budgam district and lost mobility in her legs. Although 14 years have passed, Ms. Bashir still vividly remembers that period of her life after the accident.

“In an area like Kashmir, where even able-bodied people struggle to go about their daily lives, there was little hope for a disabled woman,” says Ms Bashir, who uses a wheelchair. “My disability threatened to end my dreams of an independent life.”

But that’s not where Ms. Bashir’s story ends. Eventually, she convinced her parents to let her enroll in the Shafaqat Rehabilitation Center in Srinagar – on the condition that a family member accompany her – and found new hope on the center’s basketball court. She trained with the men’s wheelchair basketball team and has since traveled across India and the world to compete in tournaments, even representing India in a sports leadership program in the States. States in 2019. Ms. Bashir is now captain of Kashmir’s first wheelchair. women’s basketball team.

Why we wrote this

In Kashmir, where traditional culture and lack of resources prevent women with disabilities from leading independent lives, a wheelchair basketball team is giving hope.

In Kashmir, where disability representation and resources are scarce, Ms. Bashir and her teammates have helped bring attention to the rights of people with disabilities, while offering young women hope for a better future. Their stories show how adaptive sports can be a gateway to greater independence and help people with disabilities become more confident.

“Players overcome their disabilities and focus on the game. This helps them come out of depression and become more independent, while becoming socially active and good communicators,” says Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India coach Louis George. , which organizes basketball camps and selects players for national teams.

Ms Bashir, who gave a TEDx talk about her athletic journey in 2020, said basketball helped her overcome feelings of hopelessness.

“The first time I put the basketball in the net, all my negative thoughts disappeared. I had acquired a new goal,” she said.

Courtesy of Inshah Bashir

Inshah Bashir (front right) trained with the men’s wheelchair basketball team at Shafaqat Rehabilitation Center in Srinagar, India. Early efforts to create a women’s team failed in part because traditional families were reluctant to let their disabled daughters play sports.

Status of Disability Rights

In December 2016, the Indian Parliament passed the Disability Rights Bill, which added 14 recognized disabilities, suggested penalties for discrimination, and increased education and government employment quotas for people with disabilities. from 3% to 4%. However, this has yet to be implemented in Jammu and Kashmir, the territory that encompasses the Kashmir Valley and has one of the highest disability rates in India, according to the latest census reports.

‘The infrastructure in the Union Territory is not suitable for people with disabilities, especially in public offices and educational institutions,’ says disability rights activist Javid Ahmad Tak, who uses a wheelchair and founded the Humanity Welfare Organization Helpline, a non-profit organization to help the disabled community in the territory.

There are only 15 disability centers in Jammu and Kashmir, according to Annamalai University in Chidambaram, India, each with a capacity of about 40 people. The territory has hundreds of thousands of disabled people living in many districts.

Mr Tak says new sports initiatives can be a source of financial income for women, as well as a way to help build support systems, but more work needs to be done at the state level.

“At least one center should be in every district to help people with disabilities, especially women, to engage in different activities,” Mr. Tak said, adding that basketball and other forms of engagement such as computer training can “help bridge the gap”. chasm of segregation and loneliness that people with disabilities go through.

This rings true for Ishrat Akhtar. She was 16 when a spinal cord injury changed her life forever, and like Ms Bashir, the young woman took years to come to terms with her new body. Then one day, as she walked through Shafaqat Rehabilitation Center, she saw a group of men playing wheelchair basketball.

“When I asked them if I could join them, they happily welcomed me and trained me for the next few months. There has been no looking back since then,” says Ms Akhtar, who has was one of the first to join the new women’s team with Ms. Bashir in 2018.

Shatter Perceptions, Find Hope

Yet playing sports as a disabled woman in mainstream society “hasn’t just been a reward and an appreciation”, says Ms Akhtar. As in many parts of the world, people with disabilities in Kashmir are often treated as burdens, and in a region where many lower and middle class families still see marriage as the main obligation of women, these attitudes are amplified towards women. girls with disabilities.

“I faced a lot of criticism” for playing basketball, she says. “But I had to train to just focus on my own growth.”

The Voluntary Medicare Society, which runs Shafaqat Rehabilitation Center in Srinagar and coordinates the men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams, had tried to establish a women’s team before 2018 but failed to find enough female players .

Huma Ashraf, shown training at her home in Budgam in Kashmir, says the women’s wheelchair basketball team has inspired her to move forward in life.

“Initially, it was very difficult to put the team together,” says Mohammad Rafee, member and coordinator of the Kashmir men’s wheelchair basketball team. “Traditional families were too reluctant to allow young women to play sports on top of their disability.”

But the women’s team “helped break that perception,” he adds. “It was great to see these women grow up and compete in different competitions nationally and internationally.”

Having a local team makes basketball more accessible to Kashmiri women, who would otherwise have had to travel to Delhi or other parts of India to pursue a career in sport – a particularly difficult task for those who use wheelchairs. And for young women struggling with a new disability, just seeing themselves reflected on the basketball court can have a huge impact.

When Humera Ashraf damaged her spinal cord in 2020, the injury pushed the teenage medical student into solitary confinement. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to walk or move, and the thought was driving me crazy,” she says. “I felt everything stop.”

But during a visit to the Shafaqat Rehabilitation Center, she was hopeful that the women’s wheelchair basketball team would use the facility for training.

“It was here that I met other women who helped me realize that my life was far from over,” says Ms. Ashraf, who has since joined the team and resumed her medical studies.