SRINAGAR – Sayar Abdullah, 24, dreams of becoming like Bartosz Ostalowski, a professional sports rider who rides on his feet. But professional motorsport is a long way off for this young Kashmiri man. The troubled political landscape in India’s northernmost region as well as a personal handicap are proving to be hurdles for Abdullah.
When Abdullah was 12 years old, he was in a traffic accident. This led to the amputation of his right arm. He comes from the village of Vessu, about 65 kilometers south of Kashmir’s capital Srinagar
“But that didn’t break my dream,” he told Zenger News. “I decided to learn to drive with one arm.”
India’s Motor Vehicles Act (Amendment) 2016 allows people with disabilities to obtain driver’s licenses if they can present relevant medical documents.
While Abdullah did not get a professional trainer, his school friend Shafat Afzal taught him to drive.
“I never had any doubts about his (Abdullah’s) ability and determination,” Afzal told Zenger News. “It was a step-by-step process and we perfected various aspects step by step. Now Abdullah is an experienced driver. “
While the disability could prove to be a hurdle, Formula 1 has led drivers who have overcome disabilities to hit the circuit. Robert Kubica, the first Polish driver to compete in a Formula 1 race, suffered a fall at the Ronde di Andora rally in 2011. His right forearm had to be partially severed and it was believed he had to give up the race.
But Kubica returned in September 2012 and won several races and participated in Formula 1 events.
Abdullah claims to have explored the difficult mountainous terrain of Kashmir – a challenge for any athlete – despite his disability.
“The last time I explored the Bangus Valley,” said Abdullah, who is currently studying a master’s degree in law at NALSAR University of Law in the southern metropolis of Hyderabad.
Bangus is located at an altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level in the Kupwara district of Kashmir. It has no airport or train station and is difficult to access.
Abdullah now wants to practice driving as a professional sport. “My goal is to compete in driving competitions on a national level,” he said.
Sayar Abdullah, 24, dreams of becoming a Formula 1 champion. (Sayar Abdullah)
Although young Kashmiri people have brought sporting laurels home in recent years, the region, which has been ravaged by political unrest for decades, has very little infrastructure to support the dreams of Abdullah and others.
India and Pakistan both claim the entire troubled Himalayan region of Kashmir, but rule only parts of it. The two neighboring countries have gone to war several times over border disputes in the region, including clashes and dogfights in February 2019, following a terrorist attack that killed around 40 Indian paramilitary workers in Kashmir, India.
The region has also had a militant separatist movement since the 1990s – India claims Pakistan supported many of the terrorist groups operating in the region. India and Pakistan have also been charged with gross human rights violations in their parts of Kashmir.
In August 2019, the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to repeal Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which gave the former state of Jammu and Kashmir a special status. It also divided the state, bringing Kashmir under the direct control of New Delhi and imposing a communication block that was only recently lifted.
Political problems are only part of the many challenges that Abdullah faces – there are many others.
For example, motorsport, which is an expensive passion, is not the most popular in the country. The sports landscape is mainly dominated by cricket.
The Federation of Motorsport Clubs of India (FMSCI), the umbrella organization for motorsport in the country, was founded in 1971. However, there is only one major Formula 1 circuit – the Buddh International Circuit in the Noida metropolitan area, an urban center that is part of the Indian capital region. The country began hosting the Indian Grand Prix in 2011 but was suspended in 2013 due to unresolved tax issues.
Besides Karthikeyan and Chandhok, India has not produced a Formula 1 star. In 2019, Aishwarya Pissay won the FIM World Championship.
Kashmir has a young motorsport scene. FMSCI member Kashmir Off Road (KOR) organizes various rallies in the Himalayas. Abdullah is a member of KOR.
“This sport is new to Kashmir. It will take some time for young people to be motivated to participate, ”said one of the founding members of KOR, Ali Sajad.
Sajad also organizes classic car rallies.
Abdullah’s disability makes it harder for him.
Sayar Abdullah with his jeep. (Sayar Abdullah)
India, which has signed the Biwako Millennium Framework, has taken several initiatives to make society more inclusive for people with disabilities. This also applies to the government of Kashmir, which passed the Law on the Rights of People with Disabilities in Jammu and Kashmir in 2018 to provide more opportunities for people with disabilities.
Much remains to be done, however. India has around 26 million disabled people according to the 2011 census.
Khelo India, an initiative launched by the Indian government in 2017, aims to promote sport for disabled people, but there is nothing special for motorsport enthusiasts in Kashmir.
Repeated efforts to liaise with Jammu and Kashmir Sports Council, the hub for the promotion of sport in the state, have yielded no results.
(Edited by Uttaran Dasgupta and Amrita Das. Map by Urvashi Makwana)
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