Nirma Manubhai Thakarda: Juggles Studies With Playing Blind Football For India

The 26-year-old Nirma Manubhai Thakarda from a village in Gujarat has not let her lack of vision deter her either in education or sports.

It’s the confident lilt in her voice that strikes you first when you speak to Nirma Manubhai Thakarda. A cheerful smile lights up her face now and then during the interview. A smile that tells you that his young woman loves life in spite of having very poor vision.

The 26-year-old from a small village in Gujarat has not let her lack of vision deter her either in education or sports. Not only has Nirma pursued her education with an unwavering dedication, she has also developed a keen interest in blind football. In fact, Nirma played for India at the IBSA (International Blind Sports Federation) World Games in August 2023 in Birmingham, UK.

Nirma’s is a story of immense courage and determination. It is these qualities that enabled a little girl, born blind, in a poor family in Gujarat, to struggle to understand what her teacher was saying in the village primary school. The girl came to Ahmedabad with her father and her fortunes changed. The Blind People’s Association (BPA), the largest NGO in the country in the disability sector, took her under its wing.

“I felt very happy that I could do something for the country in spite of being physically challenged. If your mind is strong, you can achieve anything and overcome any difficult situation,” Nirma said in an interview soon after getting back from UK.

The early days of learning for Nirma Manubhai Thakarda

Nirma Manubhai Thakarda 

Nirma has been blind since birth. Doctors told Nirma’s parents that since it was a case of nerve damage, an operation would not work. But they did prescribe drops and said she may gain slight vision when she grows up. This has proved true.

She belongs to a small village called Rehada in Sabarkantha district of Gujarat. Her father, Manubhai Thakarda, was a farmer. While her parents were not educated themselves, they were very keen that Nirma should get an education in spite of her visual impairment.

She completed her primary and secondary schooling in the village. She studied in a regular school and struggled to learn. “Sometimes I understood what was being taught, sometimes not. It was very difficult. In fact, the principal had refused to admit me in the school, saying I won’t be able to read what was written on the blackboard. My father approached the sarpanch and only then did I get admission,” she relates.

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This struggle to learn went on till class 7. After that, her father took her to a branch of the National Association for the Blind (NAB), a non-profit organisation. The branch was 13 km from the village and she went there every Saturday. Nirma picked up Braille, which made learning much easier for her. Moreover, a special educator would visit her village school on the weekends, which was a big help. Sometimes, he would come to Nirma’s home to clear her doubts.

After schooling, Nirma came to Ahmedabad with her father for further studies. She was provided free hostel facilities by BPA. She completed several courses in BPA’s Industrial Training Centre. Furthermore, she learnt English stenography and did telephone operator and computer operator courses.

She completed her BA in Gujarati from H.K. College of Arts and MA at the School of Languages, Gujarat University. Currently, she is in her second year of a B.Ed course.

Her father passed away in 2021 leaving her mother Lakhuben to take care of the family. The financial condition of the family was not good. Still, her mother insisted that Nirma continue her studies. She hired farm labour to till the family land.

How the football dream came true for Nirma Manubhai Thakarda?

“Nirma was fond of kicking the football ever since she was a toddler. I am very happy that she is playing blind football for the country. My daughter dreams big. She wants to win an Olympic Gold for India,” her proud mother has said in an interview.

Nirma’s mother has been a great inspiration. She has always encouraged Nirma to strive to do whatever she aspires to, despite her physical challenges.

It was watching Vishnu Vaghela, another visually impaired BPA student, play blind football that motivated Nirma to learn the game. “I had not even seen blind football when I started learning the game. Vishnu taught me the basic rules – how to pass and kick. I was initially worried that I might fall down and get injured or may collide with another player. But gradually I gained confidence. I have been playing football for two years,” relates Nirma.

When she displayed interest in football, BPA provided all encouragement and support. Nirma was given nutritious food, training facilities and coaching.

The selection camp for the national team was held in Kochi in June 2023. Much to her joy, Nirma was selected in the national team to play the IBSA World Games. This was followed by an intense two-week training.

She played five matches at the IBSA championship. “It is challenging playing a formal match. All the players are blindfolded as per rules. They have to entirely rely on their hearing to listen to the sound of the ball. Each player has to say ‘Y’ every four seconds to communicate their position and become aware where other players are,” explains Nirma.

“I come from a small village. If not for encouragement from BPA I would not have had the courage and confidence to go to England. Initially, I did not even know how far England was, how long the flight would take or what we would do on the flight,” says Nirma with her trademark grin.

Nirma has made friends with her teammates in the national team. “They were from different states.  We became friends as we lived together for a month. We are still in touch,” she says.

Blind Indian footballer: Nirma Thakarda 

Days of rigorous training

Nirma Manubhai Thakarda begins football practise at 6.30 am and goes on to 10 am every day. The practice includes yoga, running, a workout and then ball practice. Nirma is being coached by a sighted professional.

She is looking forward to playing in a friendly match in Japan in February. “I am excited about visiting a new country. Also, the more I play, the more my confidence will increase,” says a determined Nirma.

After football coaching, Nirma attends B.Ed classes. If she gets free time, she enjoys listening to music. Nirma plans to be a teacher, but she is keen on her football career as well. “I am equally interested in my studies and sports. Both are important in life.”

Being gregarious, making friends has never been a problem for Nirma. “I have many friends, both among the sighted and blind. All of them support me,” she says. Now, we know one reason for her ever-smiling face!

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Image source: CanvaPro

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About the Author

Aruna Raghuram

I am a freelance journalist and write on parenting, personalities, women’s issues, environment, and other social causes. read more...

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