Born and brought up in Kashmir’s Baramulla, Ishrat Akhter has played internationally and was even behind creating Jammu & Kashmir’s first female wheelchair basketball team. The 25-year-old boss lady is also a motivational speaker, wheelchair table tennis player, and a recipient of multiple awards, including the State & Public Service Award.
Six years ago, the 16-year-old Ishrat fell from the balcony of her home and got seriously injured. Her family took her to the hospital, and that’s where the doctors informed them that this terrible accident had damaged Ishrat’s spinal cord. Three days later, doctors did the surgery, but it could not save Ishrat from being physically challenged. “I was bedridden for months, and I remember not feeling my body at all. I wasn’t even able to talk. My family would feed me, and it was all very frustrating, and I felt nothing but helpless”, said Ishrat Akhter.
Even after almost eight months, Ishrat couldn’t move her body. She would always be on her bed, and this helplessness led to depression. “It was terrible. I used to be in depression and hurt myself. I used to break things around me and became very violent during that time”, she added.
Fighting depression and becoming Kashmir’s first wheelchair basketball player
Ishrat remained bedridden for six months, and even after she was allowed to move to a wheelchair, she lost all her hope. She was so depressed that her father had to take her to a rehabilitation center in Srinagar named the Voluntary Medicare Society. “I was there for almost a year, and my treatment was also going on. During that time, I saw a few boys playing basketball in wheelchairs. I was deeply inspired, which made me try my hands on it, ” she mentioned.
After this, Ishrat decided to play basketball and joined the basketball team of the Medicare Society. She later got selected for the Nationals in Tamil Nadu, where she was presenting Delhi.
“There was a camp by the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India. They had invited wheelchair basketball players from all over the city, and I also happened to participate. I was selected and asked to represent the Delhi team because Jammu & Kashmir didn’t have a team back then. So when I came back, I decided to form the J & K team, and it happened. I played the second national game as a Shooter at Mohali and represented J&K.”, she told Local Samosa. Her team won the Mohali match with only four players against the opposing team, with five players, by 4 points. This win motivated Ishrat Akhter to play basketball with even more enthusiasm and sincerity.
Playing international matches and trying different sports
In 2019, Ishrat played at the Asia Oceania Wheelchair Basketball Championship in Pattaya, Thailand. It was also when Article 370 was abrogated, and Kashmir was given “Special Status” by the central government. There were heavy communication restrictions, phones were shut down, and the internet was also not working. “The phone lines were off, and I had no idea about my selection. The J & K police and the Indian army informed me about the same. They had brought the official letter, and the coach asked me to reach Chennai the next day. I wasn’t sure because the state of Kashmir wasn’t good at the time. But one of my closest friends insisted not to lose this opportunity, and then I left for Chennai, ” she said.
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Besides basketball, Ishrat has also been a state-level wheelchair table tennis player and even plays wheelchair cricket occasionally. “I would also like to play table tennis at the international level, and I enjoy playing cricket as well,” she mentioned. Not just this, Ishrat had once even randomly participated in a Boys’ Wheelchair Race and won the first prize. She is currently pursuing a diploma in the Women’s Polytechnic College, Srinagar.
Her thoughts on the state of the Indian Paralympics and accessibility in general
Ishrat had a lot to say when asked if this field has a good career scope. She feels the future is bright and urges the girls to take sports. “If your family supports you, you should definitely go ahead,” she said. But at the same time, she also feels that there is a lack of facilities for disabled people, not just in Kashmir but in different cities as well.
“I used to go to the basketball court in Srinagar, which was 50 km away from my home. My father would take me by bus for training, or I would travel with my brother-in-law on his bike. Kashmir doesn’t have accessible washrooms or ramps. Recently I was in a meeting with the administration where my team had to lift the wheelchair to the second floor. People help, but how often would I ask them to help me? But then there are organizations like 52RR that have always provided me with transport facilities. So you’ll find support eventually”, she added.
Ishrat Akhter has been invited as a motivational speaker and has given talks in Kashmir and other states. “It feels great. Even if ten people are motivated by my words, it is enough for me. But every bit of my success goes to my coach Captain Louis George and his friend Colonel Isenhower who is a retired army professional. They have always guided me like my parents,” she concluded.