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Nepal's Blind Cricketers Wield the Bat to Attract Attention to Their Difficulties

by Savitha C Muppala on June 18, 2010 at 12:59 AM
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 Nepal's Blind Cricketers Wield the Bat to Attract Attention to Their Difficulties

Pawan Acharya, a major in the Nepalese army, got to know of the difficulties experienced by blind people only after after he lost his own sight in an ambush by Maoist rebels during the country's civil war.

Ten years later, he is waging a campaign to revolutionise perceptions of disability in this deeply traditional Hindu country and has organised a series of cricket tournaments for blind players -- including women.


Blind people often face discrimination and even persecution in Nepal, where superstition is rife and disability is commonly seen as a punishment for misdeeds in a past life.

The problems faced by blind women can be particularly severe -- already viewed as second-class citizens because of their sex, they often find themselves ostracised from their communities.

Now, thanks to Acharya's efforts, some are being given the opportunity to shine by playing in what he says is the world's only national blind women's cricket tournament.

"Cricket has transformed these girls. The way they interact with people and the confidence they have now is remarkable," Acharya told AFP on the sidelines of the second national women's championships in Kathmandu this week.

"Before I lost my sight I didn't even think about the problems faced by blind people. But then I became involved, and realised how strong the prejudices against disabled people were."

Acharya, 32, still serves in the Nepal army, and he now mainly lectures on leadership and morale.

He launched blind cricket in Nepal in 2006 with the help of the Pakistan Blind Cricket Council, and said it was a form of rehabilitation for himself as well as others.

He organised the first blind cricket tournament that year, and introduced a separate tournament for blind women in 2009.

"I wanted to eliminate the social taboos surrounding blindness and help those affected to gain some independence," he said. "Cricket gives them confidence, and is also a great way of developing mental skills."

Nepal's Blind Cricket Association now counts 300 male players and 65 women among its members, some of whom are partially-sighted and some completely blind.

Members are graded according to the strength of their eyesight, and each team contains a set number of fully blind and partially-sighted players.

Organisers have imported specially made cricket balls from Pakistan containing iron ball bearings that rattle when the ball is thrown, and bowling is underarm to give players a better chance of hitting the ball.

Sugam Bhattarai, general secretary of the association, said he became involved because he wanted to do something constructive after losing his sight in a road accident 13 years ago.

"We wanted to show we could achieve something -- and we were tired of just attending rallies and meetings," said the 33-year-old, who also teaches at a school for disabled children.

Blind cricket in Nepal received some government funding, with the rest coming from international donors, including the Australian government. Extra funding is being sought to enable the players to compete abroad.

Most of the players in this week's tournament were teenagers, and Acharya said he wanted to give more young blind men and women the opportunity to participate.

Sita Pathak admitted she had initially been wary about playing.

"I was reluctant at first. But now I am so happy that I took up cricket," said the 17-year-old, who represents the Chitwan district of southern Nepal and was born blind.

"It is such a liberating feeling to throw away my stick and run after the ball on the pitch. If I hadn't joined the team, I would just have been sitting at home listening to the radio all day."

Source: AFP
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