Jodhpur, the second largest city in the Indian state of Rajasthan, was host to an incredible and inspiring sporting event last week. The mixed-ability young people from the Laureus-supported project IMAGE (Indian Mixed Ability Group Events), a programme which uses a variety of sports to create bonds and bring physically disabled children together, played a very special cricket match. Their opponents were conductors from the Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation (RSRTC) and the venue was the great Barkatullah Khan Stadium cricket ground. And what a match it turned out to be!
The children who played in the game took up positions that most suited their disability and the match looked to be a close affair until the end of IMAGE’s 15 overs. At this point, the conductors looked in control and in order for IMAGE to win, 5 runs off 2 balls were needed which seemed almost impossible considering the circumstances. But it was IMAGE Youth Mentor Mahendra Singh, an amputee, who brilliantly dealt with the penultimate ball, firing off a six, to the delight of the hundreds of spectators of the IMAGE community and from neighbouring villages. A Bollywood script writer could not have thought of a more exciting finish to the game.
Over 900 kids accompanied by 360 adults, who came to support the IMAGE team from villages all around Jodhpur sprinted onto the field and carried IMAGE team Captain Janak Singh, whose legs are paralyzed by polio, around the stadium for a well-deserved and very emotional victory lap. It was on this very same cricket ground, only 18 months ago, that Singh was thrown out of the stadium for being disabled when he tried to take part in a government-run, ward-level cricket tournament.
The bus-conductors, who often don’t stop their bus for disabled kids because it takes too long for them to get on, were surprised and extremely impressed by the IMAGE young people following the match. This cricket match forged a relationship between IMAGE and the RSRTC that has done both parties very proud. Indeed, 115 Disability Travel Passes valid for a lifetime were issued to IMAGE members and students with disabilities and the RSRTC is happy to work with IMAGE to issue additional travel passes to disabled people and children from other organisations in Jodhpur. This could easily run into some 1200 passes being given out.
Furthermore, banners with Disability Inclusion messages were plastered on 110 buses, stating in Hindi: “Citizens with disability may require your assistance. Come, let’s travel towards a better society.” These banners will be seen in all villages, which are located within a 140 km radius around Jodhpur city. They will stay on the buses until they fall off themselves.
Ms Neni Devi, a teacher and warden of the Girls Boarding Hostel at SKSN Institute, a residential school for the physically challenged, said "The cricket match between IMAGE and RSRTC has brought about a mental change in the bus company’s thinking. At the end of the match, the Chief Manager of RSRTC Jodhpur announced that they need our community with disabilities, whether we need them or not. From this, I can deduce that the RSRTC is going to support us a lot in the future."
The cricket-match has showed the RSRTC workforce that having a disability does not mean you have no ability. Ever since the event took place, all rural buses not only always stop in front of SKSN institute, the residential school for the physically challenged, but the bus conductors actually call out for passengers with disabilities! What an amazing change after -just a cricket match. This is the true power of sport!