Ex-captain of wheelchair cricket team picks manual labour over begging

New Delhi, July 28
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of almost each and every individual in the country, regardless of what their socio-economic status is.

One such story is about the former captain of the Indian wheelchair cricket team who has been forced to take up the job of a labourer to make a living. Rajendra Singh Dhami has resorted to manual labour due to the lack of funds. He currently breaks down stones to be used in construction for a road under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

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"I was training in Rudrapur in March when the COVID-19 lockdown was enforced. After that, I returned to my native village Raikot in the border district of Pithoragarh," Dhami told IANS.

"Initially I thought the lockdown will be for a few days but it got extended and that's when the problem started for my family.

"My brother, who also used to work in a hotel in Gujarat, had to come back to our home because of the lockdown. My father is above 60 and he is now not in a condition to work as a labourer. That's why I started working under MGNREGA scheme," he adds.

The life of Dhami, who played as an all-rounder in cricket and has represented the Indian team in 10-15 matches, presents an inspiring story of not giving up despite numerous struggles. He contracted polio while he was just 2-years-old and when he was 18, he suffered from paralysis because of which a majority of his body is disabled.

"I don't want to beg on the roadside. I want to live my life with pride," stresses Dhami who is paid Rs 400 for the eight hours of work he does on a daily basis under the MGNREGA scheme.

A post-graduate in history, Dhami also is a B.Ed degree holder. "I did want to go into the teaching line but there are many difficulties in the selection process for divyangs."

He reveals that in 2014, he came to know about disabled cricket through social media. "It was through Facebook that I came to know that there is wheelchair cricket. From there my interest grew and I thought I could play at the highest level for India and I did."

Dhami, who is also the captain of Uttrakhand wheelchair cricket team, says that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, he used to make money through sponsorships.

"Before the pandemic, for the para games, we used to get the TA, DA. Individuals used to get money through prize money.

"In personal capacity, I used to look for sponsors for the tournaments which I played and through that, we used to make our living.

"The wheelchair association of India couldn't help us that much because they too were dependent on tournaments and sponsors," he adds.

Dhami says that during the crisis, no help has been provided by the state government or the sports ministry. "I have not only written letters but have met many officials in the state government in person, but to no avail. They simply ignored my complaints and requests."

However, despite facing such hardships, Dhami doesn't want to beg and is committed enough to tackle his problems with sheer pride and utmost dignity. "I want to be a role model for people like me who are disabled. I want to inspire them to live a life with full confidence and pride."

"I want to set an example before people that disabled people can also excel in their lives and make the nation proud," he adds.

Dhami has also been providing training to the kids in his village. "I want to train them so that they can also play for the state and the country in the coming days."

He says that the government should look after the disabled people and provide them with jobs so that they can earn their living. "Just by naming divyang, the purpose is not served. They have set up NGOs, made laws for divyangs which is good. But the government should also think about the livelihood of disabled people.

"When there are elections, the government provides us with wheelchairs and security guards who take us to the polling booths. But once the elections are over, they forget about us. The government should provide us with a monthly source of income so that we can earn our bread and butter. They should provide jobs to those of us who are educated and pensions to the elderly," he said.