Part III: For these visually impaired sportspersons in Tamil Nadu, winning medals for state, country has not ensured livelihood

From Left to Right - Coach Uma Shankar and Para Judokas M. Muthulakshmi, P. Subhashini and J. Manoharan

The story is the final part of the three-part TCN Ground Report disability series. The story chronicles the lives of visually challenged judokas from Tamil Nadu, who are unsung and left to fend for themselves with minimal support from the government. 

The three-part series highlights the plight of visually challenged people from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu in India. 

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The first part tells the story of a thirteen-day protest conducted by visually challenged people earlier this year. 

The second part of the series segued into the struggle of visually challenged people in informal sectors. 

Shalini S |

TAMIL NADU – Vijayashanthi, 28, grabs my hand and draws a capital “I” with her index finger. “That’s Ippon, a winning shot. The referee draws it in our hand to tell us that we got a score,” she said. Sadly, Vijayashanthi didn’t get an Ippon for the last four years as she quit playing Judo in 2017.

Vijayashanthi, a native of Thiruvannamalai district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is one among the first Para Judo Players from Tamil Nadu to represent her state and the country on international platforms. She has won a bronze medal in the Para Asian Games held in South Korea in 2014 and a gold medal in the Commonwealth Judo Championship held in South Africa in 2016.

When asked why she quit? She scoffs and said, “What use comes out of it?”

Vijayashanthi was agile and frisky as a child, “I used to arrange bricks in our backyard and try to break them with bare hands. Amma (mother) used to be worried because I am a visually impaired girl child and might hurt myself.” 

She started practising Judo in 2012 while pursuing her B. An at Queen Mary’s College, Chennai.

“Later when I got medals in sports, Amma was happy but it didn’t last long. Winning a game didn’t feed our stomach,” Vijayashanthi spoke reluctantly.

She said that recalling her past victories these days to her family is like opening an old wound.

Vijayashanthi’s mother pawned her jewellery for her daughter to travel to South Korea in 2014, and Vijayashanthi bagged a medal in her very first international event that year. She received a cash incentive of Rs 10 lakhs from the Tamil Nadu government and Rs 3 lakhs from the central government for winning a bronze medal.

“We players have to share a good amount of money to the Association we train under,” she trailed off not wanting to reveal too much, “I used some of it to get back Amma’s gold and the money just vanished even before you know.”

She did not receive any cash incentives for winning Gold in the Commonwealth Judo Championship in 2016.

“We cannot keep begging for money to sponsors all the time to cover our travel expenses. It is humiliating, so I decided to quit”, she said.

Like Vijayashanthi, J. Manoharan, C.Pappathi, S. Monisha, M. Susheela, M. Maheshwari, M. Muthulakshmi and P. Subashini are the other Para Judokas from Tamil Nadu who have represented the county in international platforms like Para Asian Games and Commonwealth Championships. All these players trained under Coach Uma Shankar, founder of the Tamil Nadu Para Judo Association.

In an RTI filed by this reporter to the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDAT), the information revealed that only four players including Vijayashanthi were given a cash incentive of Rs 10 lakh each for bagging medals in the Para Asian Games. The players received the incentive only by 2016, two years after winning the medal.

However, the players were supposed to receive a sum of Rs 20 lakh each from the state through the high cash incentive scheme

The player’s coach, Uma Shankar, chief Judo coach of SDAT and Krishnagiri District officer of youth sports and welfare department said that “there was a lack of funding.”

Five Para Judokas are yet to receive cash incentives for bagging medals in the Commonwealth Judo Championships in the year 2016 and 2019. 

The players have won 2 gold medals and a bronze in the year 2016, and 2 gold medals and a silver in the year 2019. For which, they have to receive a cash incentive of Rs 3.75 million from the central government.

The state government didn’t recognise Commonwealth Championships as eligible for cash awards in its scheme until the year 2019. The players are supposed to receive a sum of 4 million from the state government for their achievement in the 2019 Commonwealth Judo Championships.

“We applied for the cash awards for both the Championship games but we didn’t receive the money yet. It could be because the department might have certain qualifying criteria for funding winners” says Uma Shankar.

However, Manoharan, 31, senior Para Judoka, medal winner in Para Asian Games and Commonwealth Judo Championship said, “At least my friend Jaydeep Singh from Maharashtra got Rs 1 lakh from the central government for winning a gold medal in the 2016 game. Tamil Nadu players did not receive any money.”

“It is not that we play for money. When I, along with Vijayashanthi and two other players went to the Para Asian Games, we did not know we would get money. We went for the medal. But the cash awards would be really helpful for players like us who come from poor backgrounds,” said Manoharan.


Manoharan’s father used to be a watchman and retired due to illness. His mother sells idli (rice cake – a popular breakfast in south India) for a living.

Manoharan qualified to participate in the Paralympics Grand Prix (qualifier round to the Paralympics) to be held on the 25th of May this year at Baku, Azerbaijan. He is the only player from Tamil Nadu to participate in the event.

He quoted an incident where an MLA (whose name Manoharan didn’t want to reveal) humiliated him while approaching for financial support. “He mocked me for wanting to go to international events. He said I will only contract Covid-19 from other countries. He was very condescending,” said Manoharan.

Without any financial assistance from the government, Manoharan managed to crowdfund a sum of Rs 2 lakhs with the help of his friends to participate in the qualifying round. Manoharan flew from Chennai on the 17th of May and is currently in Baku.

Manoharan adds that almost every player quit as they couldn’t afford to travel to events, “There were days where we used to starve and just eat buns while travelling in trains for state or national events” he said. 

He did not participate in the World Championship in 2013 due to a lack of funds.

Another budding player, Subhashini, 22 from Salem district of Tamil Nadu, who bagged a Gold medal in the 2019 Commonwealth Judo Championship said, “TN government gave me Rs 1.5 lakhs to travel to London in 2019. My master (coach) told me I would get money and a government job if I win a medal in the Commonwealth but I did not get anything. I had won a gold medal.”

Subhashini has an elder sister and a younger brother, both of whom are visually impaired too. “My mother cries a lot these days. I feel a burden. It would be nice if I am given a job by the government,” she said. 

Subhashini’s father is bedridden following a kidney failure. Her mother who used to cut sugarcane in the nearby fields has no means of earning amid the current pandemic.

“People think I can’t play Judo because I am visually impaired. Nobody knows that players like us exist,” she said.

With millions of cash reward in question, Para Judokas have quit without proper financial support. 

While Vijayashanthi participated in a protest earlier this year demanding a government job as a meritorious sports person, young Subhashini is awaiting to get back to her practice after lockdown and Manoharan despite the struggles he has faced, is now eagerly waiting to make it into the Paralympics.