Asian Para Games medallist struggles for job, recognition
A lot has changed in India since Mohammed Salih's heroics in Jakarta, but for him, those golden days when he got clicked with the country's PM are a thing of the distant past.
The then 34-year-old was felicitated by the Indian government with a lump sum amount of INR 15 lakh. He was even greeted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has since been re-elected for a second term.
A lot has changed in the country since Salih's heroics in Jakarta, but if there is something that has not changed, it is his fate. For him, those golden days when he got clicked with the country's PM are a thing of the distant past.
For now, Mohammed Salih is failing to make ends meet. He has his eyes set on the postponed 2022 Asian Para Games, which will now be held next year. But he doubts if he can even make it to the Indian contingent this time around.
"The main aim right now is to make it to the Indian team for the Asian Para Games. But, for that, I need to win the state and national selection trials, which at the moment seems tough. I have not been able to train properly due to financial constraints," Salih told The Bridge.
Hailing from Kozhikode district in Kerala, Mohammed Salih was born completely blind - a hereditary issue according to him. His grandfather and father were blind, and so are his sisters.
He is also married and has three kids – one of whom is blind, making it even tougher for the family to get by.
"My wife is a homemaker. We are surviving completely on bank loans and the meagre prize money I win for winning tournaments. I have to rely on these loans even for my training," said Salih, who was introduced to chess back in a blind school when he was just an 11-year-old kid.
"Even competing in tournaments has become an issue now because of all the costs involved in entry fees, travelling, food, etc. At this rate, I might have to skip the selection trials for Asian Para Games," he almost broke down.
Blind chess player fights for due
Salih has two academic degrees against his name as well – a BA in Literature and an LLB which he was pursuing during his Asian Para Games triumph in 2018. Despite this, he does not have a job.
The 38-year-old draws parallels between Soundarya Pradhan and Prachurya Pradhan – two fellow blind chess players who won the silver medal alongside him in Jakarta.
"Both Soundarya and Prachurya are employed by their state government in the Odisha Mining Corporation for their achievements in chess, while I continue to get ignored by my state government," he sighed.
Salih applied for the post of an Assistant or an LD (Lower Division) clerk with the Kerala government when they called for applications "for the selection of outstanding sportsperson in sports service" more than a year back in March 2021. But, he is yet to receive a response.
"We have approached the Kerala government multiple times in the hope to get even a minimum-paying job, but they keep ignoring," he stated.
Even the All India Chess Federation for Blind (AICFB) – an affiliate of the AICF and FIDE, had written a letter to the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan requesting them to recognise Mohammed Salih's achievements with a job.
"In a short span of time, Salih has not only emerged as a good blind chess player of India but brought laurels for our country with mid-blowing performances at the international level. He truly deserves recognition," the letter signed by the AICFB secretary four years ago in November 2018 reads.
"It is a humble request to please recognise all his achievements and provide a suitable job under sports quota as per the existing rules and regulations of the state," it further adds.
Rated close to 1150 by FIDE currently, Salih reveals that being employed by the state government is a far cry when he was not even recognised post his Asian Para Games silver medal.
"The central government was kind enough to recognise my efforts in Jakarta, but the Kerala government never did it. I have not received a single penny from the government, even after the Asian Games silver," he said.
Fed up with the treatment meted out to him by the state government, Salih, with some help from his friend Hameem Mohammed, has now set up an online petition asking for the job he deserves.
The petition, which was set up more than 2 months ago, has more than 8600+ signatories at the time of publishing this article. You can help Mohammed Salih by signing the petition here.