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Rahul Ramugade: breaking boundaries and advocating for inclusivity through sport

This image shows a wheelchair cricket player on the field. The player is donned in a blue and orange cricket jersey with the name "RAHUL" printed on the back, indicating either the player's name or a sponsored athlete. The player is wearing protective gear, including a helmet and pads, which suggests they are batting. The cricket bat is captured mid-swing, implying that the player has just hit the ball. Three stumps with bails are present, which represent the wicket in cricket. Another bat lies on the ground, suggesting that the player might have changed bats or there was another player present earlier. The background is an open field with trees and a hazy sky, typical of an outdoor cricket field.
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In the bustling streets of Mumbai, India, amidst the cacophony of daily life, there exists a group of individuals who inspire spectators with their skill and passion for the country’s national sport. Among them is Rahul, a dynamic force in the world of cricket—wheelchair cricket. Born with polio, Rahul’s life took a remarkable turn when he discovered wheelchair cricket, a sport that became for him a platform for advocacy. 

Growing up in Mumbai, cricket was more than just a sport. It is a way of life and for many years, Rahul harbored dreams of representing his country on the cricket field. Little did he know that his aspirations would manifest in the form of wheelchair cricket. “I watched cricket on TV and wished I was able to play for my country,” Rahul reminisced. “But in 2016 I discovered the existence of wheelchair cricket in India.”

Since then, Rahul has not looked back. From once playing as a child with makeshift equipment in his neighborhood, to now representing the Indian national team, his dream has become a reality. However, Rahul’s  journey is fraught with challenges. Despite the growing popularity of wheelchair cricket in India, the sport still struggles for recognition and support. “In India, there’s a lack of understanding and support for wheelchair cricket,” Rahul lamented. “While the general public appreciates our efforts, there’s minimal financial support and the sports community still remain largely unaware of our existence.”

Despite these challenges, Rahul persists, fueled by the camaraderie among players and the burgeoning support of grassroots organizations and some corporate sponsors. “Our dream is to see wheelchair cricket flourish in India,” Rahul declared. “We want to professionalize the sport, secure funding for players, and pave the way for a brighter future.”

In a nation where cricket is revered as a religion, it is disheartening that wheelchair cricket struggles to gain the same recognition and support given to the able-bodied version of the sport. The lack of understanding and inclusivity within the sport community hinders the growth of wheelchair cricket. Rahul claims that the general perception equates disability with helplessness, perpetuating misconceptions about the capability of individuals with disabilities to play the sport effectively. 

One of the fundamental challenges faced by the wheelchair cricket team and other wheelchair users in India is accessibility of transportation. While railway stations have made strides in becoming accessible, boarding trains remains a daunting task. When travelling to games which takes place throughout the country, individuals often rely on assistance to navigate the complex process of entering trains and finding suitable seating arrangements. Moreover, the lack of accessible washrooms poses a significant hurdle, forcing travellers to either control their bodily functions or resort to makeshift solutions.

The issue extends beyond trains to other modes of transportation, including air travel. While some airlines offer support and accommodations for wheelchair users, the process can still be time-consuming and arduous. Despite efforts to ensure a smooth journey, travellers often find themselves waiting for assistance, highlighting the need for improved accessibility across all travel sectors.

Accommodation presents another challenge for wheelchair users, with many hotels lacking adequate accessibility features. While some establishments offer accessible rooms, they often come at a premium, adding to the financial burden of travel. Additionally, even when accessible rooms are available, they may not meet the diverse needs of wheelchair users, requiring them to adapt and make do with limited facilities.

Notwithstanding these challenges, wheelchair cricket travellers exhibit resilience and resourcefulness in navigating the travel landscape. Through meticulous planning and coordination, they attempt to make their journeys as smooth as possible, from arranging portable ramps to advocating for accessibility improvement. 

The wheelchair cricket team who inevitably must travel frequently to games, are not only focused on their personal journeys within the country but also on promoting inclusivity and accessibility within their sport. With ambitions to expand wheelchair cricket internationally, they seek to engage with communities worldwide. By raising awareness and advocating for support, they hope to create opportunities for wheelchair cricket to thrive on a global scale.

Rahul is on a quest: “I’m involved in advocacy work to raise awareness and improve accessibility in India. I play cricket but I also work part-time,” He revealed. “My place of employment makes portable ramps and that allows me to encourage more spaces to become wheelchair-friendly.”

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