Asian Para Games chess silver medalist seeks help, but Kerala has no policy to reward para athletes

The blind chess champion has started an online petition, but Sports Minister Abdurahiman says rewards are only for Asian Games and CWG winners.

ByAjay Tomar

Published Nov 07, 2022 | 9:39 AMUpdatedNov 07, 2022 | 3:26 PM

Asian Para Games chess silver medalist seeks help, but Kerala has no policy to reward para athletes

Visually impaired Mohammed Salih is a master of deft moves, pushing his pieces with a clear vision about the outcome.

In real life his moves have almost come to standstill. He now needs a gentle push from those concerned to succeed in life.

The help, however, is not likely to come, thanks to certain policies that are yet to accept the achievements of those who beat all odds with their indomitable spirit and hard work.

The future seemed bright for Salih immediately after winning a team silver in rapid chess at the 2018 Asian Para Games held in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Salih received a grand reception from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and was felicitated by the Union government with a purse of ₹15 lakh.

Since then, life took an unlikely U-turn for the 34 year old, a native of Kozhikode in Kerala.

In conversation with South First, he opened up about the difficulties he has been facing to survive and find funds for his training after 2018.

“The Central government honoured me for my achievement. The Kerala government did not even acknowledge by win”, Salih recalled.

The Kerala chess champion has now started an online petition seeking a job from the State government. The petition, which is addressed to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Sports Minister V Abdurahiman, has received over 9,300 signatures.

He, however, needs more signatures — at least 10,000 to get a response from the chief minister and sports minister.

But the response will disappoint the player. Kerala does not have a policy to reward para athletes.

Financial crunch checkmates Salih

For Salih, a father of three, managing his training and meeting household expenses is an uphill task.

Mohammed Salih during a match

Mohammed Salih during a match. (Supplied)

“I am managing my finances without any external support. My wife is a homemaker and my kids are in school. I have availed loans from banks and my friends, amounting to ₹1.50 lakh now”, he explained.

Salih, who has won several tournaments, will next appear for the selection of the Kerala State team this month and then for South Indian ‘blind’ chess squad in December.

“I practice daily for nearly 10 hours. I have hired a coach and I pay him ₹1,000 daily for two hours of class and then ₹500 to a person with whom I solve chess problems”, a worried Salih said. He is eyeing the 2023 Hangzhou Asian Para Games as well.

However, he is now not sure if he would be able to make it to the Indian team. “I first need to win state and national trials. But due to financial crunch, I am not able to train properly”, he rued.

Salih was born visually impaired like his father, grandfather, and sisters. His six-year-old daughter also suffers from the same ailment, which he believes is hereditary.

Also read: Charvi is World Chess Champion; Kerala boy Safin bags bronze

State government turns a blind eye

Salih said the Kerala State government has not offered him any reward for his silver medal achievement.

Mohammed Salih during the 2018 Asian Para Games

Mohammed Salih during the 2018 Asian Para Games. (Supplied)

“Forget employment, I have not received any appreciation or financial assistance for my silver medal in Jakarta”, he added.

He added that the state government continues to reward commonwealth game medalists with cash prizes and government jobs at the same time.

“Even the sighted chess players have been regularly rewarded for their achievements,” Salih pointed out.

With the cash award from the Union government Salih bought bought 12 cents to realise his dream of owning a house.

“Three local organisations, the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA), UNIMONI (a digital money exchange app), and Madhyamam (a newspaper) helped me build a 680-square metre house. We can’t open any business on the remaining land”, he explained.

Shalih was earlier the former president of Kerala Chess Association for Blind (KCAB).

No policy to reward para athletes: Kerala minister

Salih started playing chess 27 years ago. He was then a Class 3 student.

He is the first blind Indian chess player to be rated by the International Chess Federation (FIDE), with a rating of nearly 1150.

Mohammed Salih chess

Mohammed Salih. (Supplied)

Salih drew parallels with his teammates, Soundarya Pradhan, and Prachurya Pradhan, who were with him in Jakarta.

“The Odisha Mining Corporation offered them jobs for their achievements”, he said.

A graduate in Literature and post-graduate in Law, Salih is yet to receive a response from the Kerala government for the position of a Lower Division Clerk (LDC).

“In 2021 March, the government called applications for an outstanding sportsperson in sports service, But I am yet to hear from them. I am very much in need of a government job so that my family can survive. It will help me focus on my training also”, he said.

He added that he had personally approached the Kerala government and the sports ministry multiple times but is yet to receive a response — and there is a reason.

South First spoke to Abdurahiman, the sports minister. “The government does not have a policy to reward para athletes. The policy allows to reward athletes who excel in Asian Games and Commonwealth Games,” he said.

Also read: World champ Charvi Anilkumar wins 5 golds, 1 silver

AICFB and KCAB extend support

In 2018, the All India Chess Federation for Blind (AICFB) recommended Salih’s name and wrote a letter to Chief Minister Vijayan.

“In a short period, he not only emerged as a good blind chess player of India but also brought laurels to our country with mind-blowing performances at the international level. He truly deserves recognition”, the AICFB, an affiliate of the All India Chess Federation (AICF) and FIDE, wrote in the letter to the chief minister.

Requesting the chief minister to recognise Salih’s achievements, the letter added, “Salih should be provided a job under the sports quota as per the existing rules and regulations of the state to help him to pursue sports career with more potential to do greater things and settle in his life. It will facilitate bringing more laurels to our country in the future.”

The government policy, however, is deaf and blind to the laurels that para athletes bring to the country.