Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

Every athlete in the recently-concluded Khelo India Para Games in Delhi was unique. Their ability to rise above physical and mental challenges exposed their God-gifted special qualities that able-bodied sportspersons can never fathom. Jeetu Kanwar is perhaps extra special. Her life story is simply surreal and just unbelievable. 

“She has seen a very difficult phase early in life and that has made her a very strong woman today. She has faced all the challenges all by herself and today, she is a self-made woman and an inspiration to the society,” said Kavita Suresh, the general secretary of the Cerebral Palsy Sports Federation of India (CPSFI). 

A spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy patient, Jeetu Kanwar, now 29, has been facing life’s odds ever since she was in her mother’s womb. Her form of spastic CP is the severest and it affects the movement of all four limbs, the trunk and the face. 

Jeetu’s grit and determination was seen at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium last week when she sprinted to the 100m bronze medal in T-35 class. Now she wants to win a medal at the 2024 Paris Paralympics. 
 
Jeetu Kanwar was born on June 26, 1994 in a humble family in Khudiyala dhani under Shergarh block of Jodhpur district. The first signs of cerebral palsy were discovered within three hours of Jeetu’s birth after she didn’t cry even once in the entire period.
 
Her father Ladu Singh, a senior nursing officer at Primary Health Centre, Nathrau, was as clueless as her mother Rukam Kanwar. Lack of adequate Oxygen in Jeetu’s developing brain during her mother’s pregnancy resulted in problems with all her limb and muscle movements.
 
“My parents were not well educated. We were also very poor. My parents and grandparents visited hospitals in Jodhpur but there weren’t facilities to treat cerebral palsy. They also went to all sacred places in and around Rajasthan to seek divine intervention but nothing helped,” Jeetu said.
 
Being the first among five siblings, Jeetu took three years to start walking. When her younger sister Nenu walked in a year’s time, neighbours and the larger family started to look down upon her. The Kanwars were also discriminated because their first kids were both daughters!

Stunted growth and problems with all body part movements made her life miserable. However, Jeetu wasn’t the one to become depressed but resolved to fight back. When she was put in the local government school, kids tormented Jeetu. Life was a nightmare. 
 
To be able to focus on studies, Jeetu changed many primary schools before she was sent to a school meant for persons with physical disabilities 20 kilometres outside Jodhpur. Jeetu excelled by emerging topper in each class from 6 to 12 at the Sucheta Kripalani Shiksha Niketan, established by then Rajya Sabha MP Narayan Singh Manaklao.
 
“It was a different world altogether. What is easy for a normal person, it was a huge struggle for me. Tying shoe laces, brushing one’s teeth, taking a bath, changing clothes and holding a pen or even writing down class notes or exams used to be very difficult. But the challenge only made me stronger. I resolved not to give up,” she explained.
 
Jeetu received the Indira Priyadarshini Award from Rajasthan Culture Minister Chandresh Kumari in 2010 for being the topper in the state among cerebral palsy kids. This came as a huge motivation and her interest in academics grew. A scholarship from a US-based NGO Polio Children followed only helping Jeetu pursue higher education.
 
Jeetu got admission in graduation in Kamala Nehru College under Jai Narain Vyas University in Jodhpur. Since it was a college for general students, she had to face discrimination and humiliation at the hands of her classmates once again. Still, she graduated with flying colours in 2013.
 
“I used to struggle asking questions in the class and everyone used to make fun of me. Asking the professor to repeat something also became a big task. I did not have the money to afford speech therapy. I didn’t have any friends who could help me with notes or projects. So, I would get tired after studying, making notes till late nights at the hostel,” she said.
 
Jeetu secured a Master’s degree in Public Policy, Law & Governance from Central University of Rajasthan, Ajmer. It was altogether a new challenge to shift to a new city but her determination helped her earn a gold medal in the subject in 2015, which was awarded to her by former ISRO chairman and vice-chancellor K Kasturirangan during the University’s convocation.
 
“It was the first time I invited my parents to come and witness my achievement. I had never called them for any prizes or awards I won before this. My parents were super happy, kept applauding me even after I got down from the stage. Tears of joy trickled down their cheeks as they shared their pride about their disabled daughter. That is the most cherished moment of my life,” Jeetu recalled.
 
Jeetu is now a research scholar at Jawahar Lal Nehru University in Delhi pursuing a PhD in Public Health at the Centre of Social Medicine & Community Health in JNU.
 
Repeated problems with her mobility forced Jeetu to consult doctors at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). And thus began her sporting career in 2015-2016. 
 
“I was unable to walk even 400 m from hostel to classroom at JNU. That’s when I consulted someone at AIIMS. The doctor told me to immediately start physiotherapy and get into physical activity for at least 2-3 hours daily. Around the same time, I heard about the Rio Olympics and I felt it will be a big thing to represent India one day. My classmate was Neha Yadav, who was a trained physio, and she used to help me overcome the stiffness in my limbs and muscles,” she said.
 
Since then, Jeetu hasn’t looked back and went on to win the 100m gold medal thrice in National Para Athletics Championships, jointly organised by Cerebral Palsy Sports Federation of India (CPSFI) and the Paralympic Committee of India. She also won the gold in 200m at the same meet along with silver in long jump.
 

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