- Cover Story
Forces For Good: Mahantesh G. Kivadasannavar
Deprived of sight at six months old, Mahantesh G. K. went on to tour England as a cricketer and head the World Blind Cricket Council.
Belief in Ability
Mahantesh G. Kivadasannavar,Sportsman, 51
If you’re a cricket fan who’s never heard of Mahantesh G.K., the loss is yours. This 51-year-old Bengaluru resident has many feathers in his cap—from touring England in 1998as a cricketer to heading world-class organizations that are changing the lives of aspiring cricketers, both men and women, especially in rural areas.
Mahantesh loves a well-executed cover drive or perfectly pitched delivery like any cricket enthusiast.But what makes him stand out is the fact that he is blind. When he was six months old, typhoid deprived Mahantesh of his sight. But his adoring parents never let it come between him and his dreams. Since the village in Belgaum, Karnataka where the family lived didn’t have a school that would admit a childlike theirs, they moved Mahantesh to Bengaluru, where he got a fine education and cultivated his love for the game. Early on, Mahantesh says,he was encouraged to cultivate his“belief in ability”. He embraced that spirit with all his heart and went on to head the World Blind Cricket Council and, in 2011, co-found the Cricket Association for the Blind in India.
But there’s no denying the role of sheer good luck in Mahantesh’slife, especially in a country where persons with disabilities (PwDs) face the brunt of discrimination, not least from their own families. According to the 2011 census, India has some21 million PwDs. But the actual number is likely to be 60 to 70 million.Despite affirmative action and laws on equal opportunities, PwDs continue to face discrimination when it comes to pursuing education, employment or,simply, a full life. These challenges get compounded by discrimination based on caste, class, gender, and sexuality.
“School made me completely independent and brought about a total transformation,” says Mahantesh. “I imbibed life skills. From a special school, I moved on to a regular college [to do an MPhil].” And so,“the urge to do something for the visually impaired, disabled and underprivileged regarding education and jobs” became a key driver in his life. In 1997, Mahantesh took a step towards realizing this goal, when he co-founded the Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled with his friend, L. Nagesh.
Samarthanam is more than just a conduit for education and employment, though. One of its projects, Kirana, has secured jobs for hundreds of rural blind and disabled youth. Several of its alumni have gone on to get MBAs or become chartered accountants. But Samarthanam’slarger vision is to bring dignity and joy to the lives of PwDs. And that includes giving them a chance to play competitive sports like cricket.
Mahantesh and his organization’s unrelenting support has enabled the blind men’s cricket team to win the T20 world cup in 2012 against Pakistan. Two years later, the boys from India defeated the neighbours again in a one-day international world cup.The Karnataka blind women’s team, founded in 2019, drew in talent from the districts, helping many women to not only break the taboo of gender but also that of their ‘disability’.
Since the onset of COVID, Samarthanam has doubled down on providing logistical and medical support to PwDs. “We joined hands with the Indian Railway Tourism and Catering Corporation to make 70 stations accessible for [PwDs] to commute with minimum external assistance,” Mahantesh says. “I envision Samarthanam to touch10,00,000 lives by 2030 … make [the mall] taxpayers of India.”