The story of women in wheelchairs playing basketball
At the age of 11, Ratna Akhter Nodi was married off to a middle-aged man, back in 2008. Her carpenter father gave her away at the cost of her studies.
From the very first month of her marriage, Nodi started facing torture – physically and mentally – from her husband and mother-in-law for dowry.
The minor girl gave birth to a baby boy within a year in 2009, while enduring torture from her in-laws that continued regularly.
The final blow came in 2014, when her in-laws tried to push her off to death from the rooftop of a three storey building in Satkhira.
Nodi was lucky enough to survive the attack, but at the cost of her spinal cord being broken. Since then, she is completely wheelchair-bound.
After that incident, Nodi’s father brought her to Dhaka for better treatment.
Nodi ended up at Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) in Savar to receive physiotherapy in 2015, after months of treatment at different hospitals in Dhaka.
She was divorced while receiving treatment at CRP, just for being a person with disability.
Her former husband and in-laws do not even allow her to see her only child.
It has been five years since she saw her now 10 year old son.
Recalling the moments of torture, Nodi said: “My son, who was just five at that time when they tried to kill me, is the sole witness to their brutality.”
With a never-ending agony in her eyes, Nodi was narrating her days full of nightmares as she was talking to this correspondent during the break of a wheelchair basketball practice session at CRP.
Nodi, currently 22, is not only fighting to overcome her psychological challenge and mental trauma, but also trying to achieve something big as a sportsperson.
“Basketball has turned my misery into strength. Now I’m dreaming of accomplishing something big,” said a confident Nodi.
Nodi went to three countries to play wheelchair basketball so far. “I was the highest scorer on our Thailand tour,” she said.
The case of Sabina Khatun, one of Nodi’s teammates, is also very moving. She was married off to a migrant worker living in Singapore in 2017 while studying in college.
Unfortunately, she sustained spinal cord injuries after a dilapidated wall of the kitchen at her in-laws’ house collapsed on her. Her treatment required Tk3,00,000 whereas her husband contributed only Tk20,000.
Her husband, who was in Singapore at that time, divorced her by asking her to sign on some blank sheets claiming those papers are for something important.
But little did she know that she was signing her divorce papers. Meanwhile, she was enrolled in higher studies after finishing HSC.
Sabina said she no longer thinks of her gruesome past.
“Now I rule my own world. Though I’m bound to a wheelchair, my dream cannot limit me to this only. I do everything in my capacity while sitting in the wheelchair,” said Sabina.
Sabina and Nodi play in the same team called Aparajita that recently won a tournament abroad.
Even their skipper, Marzan Akhter, is trying her best to overcome the odds as she fell off of a tree in 2015, breaking her legs.
“Being a basketball player, now I can dream of what I could not achieve in the past,” echoing the same determination as Nodi and Sabina.
Marzan, currently pursuing an honours degree in speech and language therapy, said their journey to form the team and compete in different competition was not exactly a walk in the park.
“We’re always at risk of facing further injuries. Moreover, our fear was much higher at the beginning since we had to face boys at the court,” she added.
The hopes, the issues
In February 2016, the CRP authorities organized a women’s wheelchair basketball training for a month with assistance from International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). For the first time in 2017, the team travelled to Nepal to play an international tournament.
In 2018, the team participated in another tournament in Indonesia’s Bali to seal the five-match series 5-0.
In March last year, it took part in a training camp in Thailand.
Mustafizur Rahman, trainer of the team, said they had started with two girls, including Nodi.
Currently, the team has 20 players aged between 13 and 35, he said.
All of the women playing in the team have managed to escape the ghosts of their past, he said.
“Now they want to be considered as national level players with facilities and a minimum allowance from the government,” he stated.
They are confident about participating in the Paralympics, for which they have to depend on Bangladesh Basketball Federation (BBF), Rahman added.
Pointing out the struggles, Rahman said: “Practicing in a camp only three times a year, which equals to three to four months of practice in a year, is not enough.”
Wasif Ali, national basketball team coach, said the women's team needs proper training and care.
“They have been so impressive in such a short time,” he said.
“So I hope BFF will take prompt measures for them so they can attend the Paralympics,” he added.
The 2020 Summer Paralympics, the 16th edition of the international multi-sports event, will be held in Tokyo, Japan, from 25 August to 6 September, 2020.