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Couple Saleem, Gulshan ‘mentor’ scores without using a single word

As she makes gestures with her hands and face, her husband Saleem Wani nods and quickly joins in to exhibit scores of citations and trophies, the couple has collected over two decades.

Post by on Tuesday, January 5, 2021

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A warm smile welcomes you as Gulshan Wani ushers you into the drawing room of her house in Srinagar’s Nowgam area. 
As she makes gestures with her hands and face, her husband Sal¬eem Wani nods and quickly joins in to exhibit scores of citations and trophies, the couple has col¬lected over two decades. 
No words are exchanged. The two cannot hear or speak. But they share an unusual compre-hension when it comes to their pledge for the welfare of the people with speech and hearing impairment in the Valley. 
It is their resolve that made them form an organization- All J&K Sports Association of the Deaf, almost two decades back. 
Through their organization they “mentor” people with speech and hearing impairment and encour¬age their participation in various sports events in India and 
 abroad. Their efforts have yielded results 
 as hundreds of people with speech and hearing abil¬ity after joining their organization have represented J&K at various national as well as international level tournaments. 
For the mission that initially belonged to Saleem, Gulshan now is the backbone. 
After her recent return from Turkey as a mentor for the women's tennis team, Gulshan is gearing for ski-ing expeditions. “Making young people realise the importance of sports for their physical and mental health, persuading their families and then encourag¬ing them to participate has been an uphill task,” says 46-year-old Gulshan through the gestures, which are explained by their son Abrar Wani(14). The son often acts as the interpreter for his parents. 
Today, they say that their organisation has around 250-300 active members, who have participated in dozens of events in sports like wrestling, judo, crick-et, skiing, table tennis and won medals on various international platforms. “More than winning, it’s participating and being seen that is important to us,” gestures Gulshan to Abrar. 
But how did the ‘unusual duo meet’? The two were classmates at the lone school for people with hearing and speech difficulty at Srinagar’s Solina area, and have been married for 20 years. “We have known each other since childhood and share the same difficulty. So, we are well aware of issues faced by people with disabilities. As such our vision is also common,” says Gulshan. 
Saleem’s eyes well up as he recollects his childhood in a family that raised all three deaf and mute kids. He, along with his two elder sisters, was born deaf and mute. 
“As a child I experienced that there was no place for people with disabilities in our society and we were treated as outcasts. I didn’t have many friends in the neighborhood. As I grew, it was almost impossible to communicate and establish strong connections with others. I took up gymming and running etc,” says Salmeem (42). 
In the 90s, during the peak of militancy in the Valley, his parents sent him to Delhi, where he studied up photography and was exposed to sports and activism. “There I saw how people with physical challenges had better facilities and opportunities. I realised that sports can not only improve health, but build confi-dence and be a great booster for people with disabili-ties in Kashmir too,” he says. 
Gulshan also joined him there for further studies. 
They returned to the Valley and started working on the initiative. But things were not as easy. 
“It was difficult to reach out to people and make them understand the importance of sports and phys¬ical activity. Even today there aren’t many initiatives or job opportunities associated with sports for the differently abled,” he says. But he did not give up. 
“We went door to door to reach out to people and supportive organisations. People started joining in. We got some volunteers who helped us with speech and sign language. We started participating in events in India and internationally too,” Gulshan says. 
Living with disabilities is not easy, but things are additionally difficult when it comes to the situation in Kashmir, she says. 
She even recalled how she missed an international event in Italy in August last year due to the commu¬nication gag Kashmir experienced post abrogation of Article 370. 
“One of our coaches, who could not reach us over the phone or internet had to fly down from Jammu to inform us about the participation details of another sports event that was also happening in Italy and we were able in the reach their in the nick of time,” Gulshan adds,
 “For the deaf and mute people across the globe, the advent of internet, particularly the video calling and FaceTime has come as a boon as we rely on it for com¬munication, but here at Kashmir we have to face un¬necessary and unplanned disconnect when the inter¬net is snapped or is not at appropriate speed, ” complained the duo. 
Yet the two are satisfied with whatever they have achieved so far in life despite facing several chal¬lenges in the due process. 
“We are satisfied that we did not let our impairment come in the way of our purpose,” says Gulshan.

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