At South Mumbai pool, paraplegic swimming champ is seen as 'inconvenience'

Jan 17, 2016, 14:55 IST | Tanvi Deshpande

Nisha Gupta, who has Olympic dreams, was denied ramp at Parel's Kamgar Kalyan Mandal. Has ceased practice after waiting for two months

It was plain irony that while a national paraplegic swimming champion could get admission to a swimming pool, there was no staff to help her reach the water. Nisha Gupta, 29, who won a bronze medal at a paraplegic swimming championship in Belgaum last year, was deprived of facilities at Parel’s Kamgar Kalyan Mandal (affiliated to the state government) swimming pool.

Nisha Gupta. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Unable to access the first floor pool for lack of a ramp, Gupta, who joined the club in November, requested for assistance from lifeguards, which was met with a negative response. Two months down, Gupta has ceased practicing, with no pool with assistance close to her Worli residence.

Gupta was paralysed waist down 11 years ago after she met with an accident in Uttar Pradesh. Gupta, who was 18 then, was told she could never walk again, and, after years spent in despair, finally came to terms with her condition. Regaining confidence after meeting similarly disabled people, Gupta started learning basketball, tattoo making, and once went to Dharavi to watch a swimming championship for the disabled.

“It is important for people with disabilities to exercise their limbs and muscles. I started training for three hours every day for one month. Then, I participated in the national championship at Aurangabad in November,” she told SUNDAY mid-day. Gupta went on to participate in another competition in Belgaum last year where she won a bronze medal in each of the following categories: 100 mts freestyle, 50 mts breast stroke and 100 mts back stroke.

For the Worli resident, practicing every day at Dharavi’s competition-level pool, fitted with disabled-friendly infrastructure, meant an expensive taxi ride. She then sought admission at the nearby Kamgar Kalyan Mandal swimming pool. Although granted admission, she was later given the cold shoulder by authorities. Initially, her family members would assist her up the steps, but when she started arriving alone, she asked the lifeguards to carry her up. Although they did it for the first two days, nobody came forward on the third. “Ramps for the disabled are mandatory in public places. There was no ramp available. If there was one, I would have asked any of the visitors to help me. But the pool officials didn’t even offer to build a temporary one,” Gupta said.

“I felt humiliated that day. How will I ever be independent if society doesn’t cooperate? My family members may not be available at all times and I don't want to be dependent on them. It is my dream to participate in the Olympics,” she added.

Amit Gupta, Nisha’s brother said, “I asked the management why were they not helping her despite committing. They said it was a senior official who had committed to her, not them.”

SUNDAY mid-day spoke to the manager Shirish Beke, who said, “How can she expect our lifeguards to carry her up and down every day? A lifeguard cannot leave his deck. What if there is an accident in the meanwhile? We have never denied admission to anyone. She is still welcome to come. She should just get someone along who can help her.” He added that since the pool was a government facility, the decision for a ramp had to be taken by higher-ups. Besides, since Gupta needed to be carried up, the lack of female lifeguards was a problem, according to Beke.

Assistant Welfare Commissioner Anil Lohokare was not available for comment.

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