Dharamveer Pal, the widely-recognised polio-afflicted fan of the Indian cricket team who has been a near permanent presence near the boundary line during matches for years, won’t be able to function as a ball-boy anymore. He will be free to sit in the stands and watch the game, but he can no longer be a boundary-rider. It is learnt that after copping criticism on social media and by email for using the services of a polio-afflicted person, the Indian cricket board has sent a circular to all staging associations to not use such a person as a ball-boy.
“Cricket is the reason for my living,” says a tattoo on Dharamveer’s left arm. He is well known to many Indian players. During his farewell Test match in Mumbai in 2013, Sachin Tendulkar took time out to meet with Dharamveer and Sudhir Kumar Gautam, the fan who paints his body in the colours of the Indian flag, and told them to keep supporting cricket. “It is because of you guys that we play. Keep supporting India. Indian cricket needs you,” Tendulkar had said. Yuvraj Singh had once said about Dharamveer: “A physically challenged child has so much passion for the game, so we must help him. He always comes to see our matches, it’s nice to help the child.”
But during the recently-concluded series against Australia, the BCCI was tagged in tweets questioning the decision to employ physically challenged ball-boys.
“@BCCI Why do you put a polio afflicted ball boy just out of the boundary ropes? poor advertisement for polio free India @bhogleharsha,” read a tweet from @iamashwini, who also wrote: “Is it the best way of honouring him? I’m sure there are better ways of appreciating his passion for and contribution to cricket.”
@EEvarun said: “It’s great to see the support for him. But you always feel sympathetic seeing his helplessness. Surely not the best way of presenting him.”
Some tweets were different, though. @Srign said: “A true example of passion and grit….what an inspiring tale…”
BCCI general manager (game development) Ratnakar Shetty has now advised all state associations hosting India vs New Zealand and India vs Sri Lanka games next month, to not give accreditation to differently abled boys to be ball-boys.
“It has been reported that physically handicapped boys are being used as ball-boys during the international matches by the state units and we have been criticised for the same,” Shetty wrote in his letter, accessed by The Sunday Express, which was sent a few days ago.
He added, “You are advised not to issue ground access pass to any physically handicapped person as ball-boys. They should be given proper seating in the stands allocated.”
Dharamveer is from a village in Morena district of Madhya Pradesh. He was afflicted with polio when he was just 8 months old. He has been a fervent fan of the game from a young age, and captains his home state in tournaments conducted by the All India Cricket Association for the Physically Challenged. He loves to talk about his most cherished knock of 175. Dharamveer has been to Australia, England, West Indies, Sri Lanka, South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan and Bangladesh to support the Indian team.
“I was fine up to the age of 8 months, but I did not get proper polio doses around that time and both my legs got affected,” Dharamveer told The Sunday Express. “Ever since 2004, I have been involved with the game. I know all the players and they have been really friendly and nice to me. From Sachin paaji, MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli, Virender Sehwag. I know most of them and have been helped by them,” he said.
Dharamveer showed up at the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA)’s Wankhede Stadium office on the eve of the India vs New Zealand first ODI game but had to return empty-handed as the MCA denied him accreditation.
“I went to MCA and I was told that I won’t get the pass. I got a ticket from an Indian player. Mujhe match dekhne se matlab hai. (I just want to watch the match), be it from the boundary rope or from the stands. I tried to ask MCA why they are not issuing a pass and I was told that there is some new BCCI rule. I have no complaint — whatever name I have earned in India is because of cricket. I have been cheering the Indian team for years now and will continue to do so,” Dharamveer said.