But she decided to continue playing anyway.
Today, she is the first wheelchair-bound female basketball player from Kashmir and was the only player from her state to participate in the Sports Visitor Program in the United States last year.
“I had to go through tough times in my life. Nothing comes easy. Success will not come to you unless you work hard for it,” she says. Basketballs fly through the air as loud cheers reverberate. Inshah, strapped into a wheelchair, whizzes across the court, with hands covered in grey dust from accelerating the wheels.
Stuck At The Crossroads
Almost 12 years ago, little Inshah woke up in a hospital bed and couldn’t feel her legs. She was relaxed, though, her thoughts tricking her brain that all was well.
Days after being diagnosed with a stomach ulcer, a miserable fate took its turn on her as she fell from the balcony of her house in Budgam district of Jammu and Kashmir. Simply trading glances with her parents, she knew, would trigger cascades of tears.
“It was terrible, I cannot put it into words. The world seemed to crash down in pieces. I was confined in my room for eight years, isolated from the rest of the world,” she explains, in a conversational tone, how a severe spine injury reduced her to a condition no less than a puzzle that could never be put back together.
‘My Parents Are My Biggest Inspiration’
“Main apni abbu ammi ki hamesha ehsaanmand rahungi. (I will always be grateful to my parents).” Inshah’s dream would have probably never seen the sunshine had it not been for the unfaltering support of her parents. She still remembers how Ammi would let out a little cry every now and then, and Abbu would sit stone silent and stiff.
“I felt broken inside. It grew worse when I realised it was because of me that my parents were depressed. Suddenly, there was no meaning in my life. I had almost given up on myself. I grew so dependent upon my parents, both physically and financially. My relatives said that I should have died in the accident than living with a disability,” Inshah says, her voice tipping over in a deep sigh. Even those darkest days failed to unsettle her.
However, despite warnings from some that an athletic career would be difficult if not impossible to achieve, she proved to others and to herself that the only limits she faced were those she put upon herself. But the storm wasn’t over as yet. Shortly afterwards, came the shattering news when her father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
A Lasting Force In Her Sport
Having spent some time questioning life’s fairness, Inshah decided that she had spent long enough fretting about her plight, and at the age of 23, went out to try to make the impossible, possible. As the adage goes, ‘no matter how tall a wall is, never stop climbing!’
“I still remember having seen a group of boys in conditions worse than mine playing basketball at the Shafqat Rehabilitation Centre near my house. I had always evinced a great deal of interest in basketball.
Yes initially, I had doubts about my ability, but gradually it became easier. For the next six months, some rigorous training continued. I was very happy to prove others wrong,” she says laughing. By mentally squashing down her bodily limitations as best as she could and pushing on through, she thought her body would remember that people ‘like her’ do exist, and still not letting up.
In a year’s time, by then far too busy to waste any time feeling apologetic, Inshah set about the creation of a new identity, for herself and for others to follow. She knew she was on the edge, perhaps she never thought that she would go over while learning how to get around her inability to move side to side all at once.
Her struggles bore fruit. The next few years were dramatically different for Inshah: she smiled again, laughed, and began what would be a life-long passion for basketball. “It was a different feeling to be able to play at the national level. The basketball court, for me, is the place I would always go when I need peace and comfort. I feel alive there. There was a lot of uphill battle I have had to face, but basketball has given back that fulfillment and peace,” she acknowledges. She started playing with the men’s team and eventually got selected in the ‘Rest of India’ team to compete at the national level in the year 2017.
A Bumpy Ride To Success
For some more than others, the path of success is riddled with obstacles. It suffices to say that disadvantaged communities, including women and religious minorities, have to wage regular battles for their rights. Inshah’s strife-torn native state is famous for its bleak stories of violence, lethal attacks, militant insurgency, and almost never-ending protests. “It is tough”, as she narrates, considering the social pressures.
“I am a Muslim woman from Kashmir. The anti-India sentiment still runs deep in the Valley. There is a misconception that we are treated unfairly in India. People warned me that I’ll be either be disqualified or not be given a chance because I’m a Kashmiri Muslim. These are false allegations, nothing of this sort happens.”
“The abilities of a woman are mostly looked down upon when it comes to sports. I faced resistance too, people would laugh at me. Girls are educated so that they are married in good families. Do women have no purpose in life other than serving their husbands? This has never sat right with me. Why should always women sacrifice?” she snarls. Amid tension and indifference brewing around her, Inshah has come to find solace in basketball, learning to find happiness in her own way.
Sometimes, things just have an interesting way of falling in the right place. Inshah stresses she always wanted to be a doctor, which is why she prepared for the MBBS entrance test only to finally opt out due to the difficulties of travelling back and forth in a wheelchair. The 27-year-old has completed her B.A. and B.Ed and presently teaches in a Delhi-based school. Besides, she trains girls to learn basketball at her rehab centre, so that they carve out ‘new identities’ for themselves.
Haven’t we, as a society, become so conditioned to view disabled people differently? As though the non-disabled use as many references to feel better about their own lives, while those living with disabilities are unthinkably tragic that they put all their own troubles into perspective.
Although Inshah’s journey is inspiring in its own way and one that invigorates the soul about overcoming adversity, she doesn’t want it to end with this narrative. She is an athlete, training like any other, and wants to be known for being excellent at what she does. “In terms of the efforts that go into it, it is as much as our able-bodied counterparts. Disability should never become your weakness. It is my strength. You sometimes win and lose in life, be prepared to accept it.”