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Home > Lifestyle News > Culture News > Article > Deaf women cricketers break silence over systemic challenges and social biases

Deaf women cricketers break silence over systemic challenges and social biases

Updated on: 08 July,2024 12:30 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Ainie Rizvi |

Because they are deaf and dumb, they lack the agency to open up and seek help, informs Nida Zabi Shaikh – the captain of Mumbai’s deaf cricket team

Deaf women cricketers break silence over systemic challenges and social biases

(L-R) Pratima Mishra, Chaitra B.N, Kajal Dhawan, Shagun, Jyoshna and Needa Zabi Shaikh. Captains of six women's cricket teams gather for Women’s Deaf Premier League 2024 at Police Gymkhana, Marine Lines.

As dawn breaks, Nida Zabi Shaikh (32) prepares for cricket practice at Nehru Nagar Ground in Kurla. Alarms do not serve as her wake-up call. The grit to win the Women’s Deaf Premier League 2024 propels her to rise early in the mornings.

Shaikh along with six deaf women's cricket teams have gathered at the Police Gymkhana Cricket Ground, Marine Lines, to compete for the winner’s trophy at this four-day league. In a bid to nurture diversity and inclusion for hearing-impaired female cricketers – the Serum Institute of India, Cyrus Poonawalla Group has organised the women’s T10 cricket tournament.

At the cricket ground, one can feel the pulse of the high-octane matches. Using sign language, Chaitra B.N., the Captain of Bangalore Badshahs, tells Midday: “We are thrilled to participate. Despite initial nervousness – the opening match was incredibly action-packed."

Mumbai emerged as the winner under Shaikh’s captaincy in the opening match between Mumbai Stars and Bangalore Badshahs. Post the match, as we sat down to delve further into their practice and challenges - distressing realities came to the surface.

Rape at Schools for Deaf and Dumb
Deaf women have been subjected to heinous violations of integrity and an infringement of their fundamental right to consent, in one of the sign language training schools in Kurla (name undisclosed at request).

“Some of my classmates have been raped by teachers on the school premise. And, because we are deaf and dumb – we lack the agency to open up and seek help,” reveals Shaikh in sign language translated by the mediator.

An undue advantage is being taken in the classrooms which are meant to empower deaf women with a medium to express themselves. What’s appalling is the fact that the perpetrators are the very people appointed to educate and enable these hearing-impaired women.

Why is it not being reported, we ask?

“Some girls are not aware of what is happening to them. Often, the parents are also unable to comprehend or explain what rape is. Additionally, many certified teachers in these schools are not well-trained in sign language. As a result – these crimes go unreported and we live with the shame silently,” she adds.

Chaitra’s parents were never in agreement with her pursuing cricket as a career. She recounts the episode when her parents questioned her ability as a deaf person. “You are deaf and have no speech. What if something happens to you – nobody would come to know.”

Concerns expressed by Chaitra's parents gain credibility in light of such incidents. Violations of dignity not only pose a threat to women's safety but also create an environment that discourages potential sports enthusiasts.

These ghastly accounts shed light on the grave injustice being faced by deaf women. It demands the urgent need for awareness, education and support within this vulnerable demographic. It also sheds light on the credibility of state-appointed, unqualified and immoral teachers who continue to subject deaf girls to sexual and physical abuse.

Social and familial ostracisation
The players stand united and lend a sense of camaraderie that goes beyond their immediate teams at the tournament. Perhaps this sisterhood arises because of the collective experiences shared by the hearing-impaired populace.

When it comes to their dreams and aspirations, they often face skepticism from parents and society due to mistrust and a lack of communication.

Kajal Dhawan (45) who heads the Delhi Bulls team opens up about the discrimination she had to endure while pursuing cricket in school. With the aid of an interpreter, she reveals how she was fascinated by cricket but was denied a spot on the school team.

To her rescue, she met Sumit Jain, the president of IDCA who is one of the organising members of the T10 Women’s Deaf Premier League 2024. Jain is a revolutionary figure who has been empowering deaf women to overcome obstacles and pursue their dreams of playing sports.

With his help, Dhawan found her footing in cricket and since then, has never looked back. However, several deaf women continue to face inequalities when it comes to playing cricket with ‘normal’ people as they put it.

Julie, the 20-year-old captain of Hyderabad Eagles tells Midday: “During practice, I was always led on to believe that I will get to play on the team. However, I never really got a chance to play with normal people owing to my deafness.”

Not only in school but at home as well, their credibility as cricketers is dismissed. “My parents did not consent to the idea of building a career in sports. They wanted me to be a teacher and get married,” reveals Shaikh.

Pratima Mishra (36), heads the UP warriorz team, who picked up playing cricket post her marriage as her parents could not afford her passion financially. “Post-marriage, I navigated this journey myself as my parents continued to discourage me. However, after playing the sport for 1-2 years, we finally arrived on the same page.”

Social castigation aside, these determined women have carved a space for themselves in the world of cricket. Despite the roadblocks presented by society, they stand united by one dream – to represent India internationally.

“I want to play and win not for myself – but for other differently-abled people who aspire to become sportspersons,” shares Shagun (29), the captain of Punjab Lions.

Inequality and lack of access to resources
In their pursuit to play cricket – there arises a dire need for players to be equipped with the best of resources. But to append their problems – they are subjected to unequal opportunities when it comes to getting access to resources and national/international tournaments.

Shagun cites IPL and asks – “If normal people get to play at the international level – why not us?” While cricket traditionally remains a male-dominated sport, Shagun points out how it marginalises women and further in the case of deaf women, by excluding them from the games.

Mishra adds that regular people get access to the best resources in terms of sports equipment, dietary regimes and sports training. However, when it comes to deaf and dumb people – they cannot avail these benefits despite putting in the same amount of hard work.

At the genesis of inclusivity lies the sign language. When Shagun began playing cricket – she faced issues while training with a coach who was not well-versed in sign language. The absence of a common mode of communication presented challenges as she could not clarify her doubts or convey her thoughts.

“We sometimes miss out on the rules and not learn about our mistakes as the coach does not know sign language,” Shagun shares with Midday. It underscores the necessity for coaches to become adept in sign language, in order to be inclusive in the training of specially-abled sportspersons.

Ms. Roma Balwani, CEO of IDCA echoes her concerns, “It is a career growth issue for these women who perceive the world differently. Their demand to seek equality is legitimate and it is something they always aspire for – to play mainstream.”

“Hence, our endeavour this year with diversity and inclusion is to focus on their growth and engage all the stakeholders who directly impact this trajectory. We want them to have their job security. Second, they should have pride in their place in society. Third, they should be given much more opportunities, adds Balwani.

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