The sporting feat of a budding visually challenged chess sensation has gone completely unnoticed and unrewarded at a time when stellar performances of Odia athletes in the just-concluded Asian Games in Indonesia were widely acclaimed both by the State government and the private sector. Twenty-year-old Soundarya Kumar Pradhan won a silver medal at the 10th IBCA World Individual Junior Chess Championship for the Blind and Visually Impaired held in Poland in the third week of August. His feat assumes even greater significance considering the financial and infrastructure obstacles he faced in his journey from Boden in Odisha’s Nuapada district – one of the poorest and most backward regions of the country. “For a visually challenged, it was never easy to travel to Poland and compete with the best in the game. It hurts when nobody comes forward and pats your back when you bring laurels for the country against all odds,” rued Mr. Soundarya. He was a born with Leber congenital amaurosis, a disease genetically passed through families. It, however, did not deter him from dreaming. Initiated into chess at the age of four, Mr. Soundarya has been performing consistently in the game. He emerged as the champion at the national level on a couple of occasions and also won the bronze at the Asia Pacific Chess Championship for the Blind and Visually Impaired held in Karnataka in 2017 before clinching the silver last month.When Mr. Soundarya was finally felicitated by Lex Publicio, a Bhubaneswar-based law firm, here on Monday, he said it would be difficult to move ahead without support. Recently, Odia sprinter Dutee Chand was awarded ₹ 3 crore for her double silver in the Asian Games, while four members of the Indian women hockey team were given ₹1 crore each for coming second.
The authorities have decided not to publicise the details of candidates contesting in elections to urban local bodies in volatile pockets in the Kashmir valley “due to security reasons,” evoking sharp reactions from political parties.“Lack of transparency will only bring disrepute to the institution of democracy. It seems former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s legacy is being reversed. Mr. Vaypayee, as prime minister, ensured fair elections in J&K and allowed peoples’ representatives to come up. This saw a new hope emerging among people, who started looking up to elections as a credible exercise. In the process, mainstream political parties, too, gained an important space despite Kashmir’s complex situation,” senior Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Nayeem Akhtar told The Hindu. He described the situation in J&K as “worse than the 1990s.” “It’s getting worse than 1990s, with non-locals being fielded as candidates in many wards. They may have visited the area for the first time on the day of the nominations. The way the elections are held goes against tenets of democracy,” said Mr. Akhtar.All major regional parties, including the PDP and the National Conference, have decided to boycott polls, leaving the Jammu & Kashmir People’s Conference (J&KPC), the Congress and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) as major players in the fray. “The credibility of the poll process has been badly affected. No candidate has filed a nomination in 177 wards. In 215 wards, candidates have been declared [elected] unopposed. It speaks volumes about the power-thirsty BJP imposing [on the] elections. What will be the credibility of these polls, when even finding a candidate to contest has become difficult?” asked Congress vice president and MLC G.N. Monga .Details concealed Contrary to J&K Chief Electoral Officer Shaleen Kabra’s directive to returning officers “to paste details of contesting candidates on notice boards”, scores of wards in south and north Kashmir have decided against it. “Candidates have pleaded with us that their lives will be in danger in case their details are made public. In many wards, we decided against publicising it,” a south Kashmir-based official told The Hindu. In the wake of militant threats, several independent candidates on Thursday held a press conference in Srinagar. They claimed they were “not getting any response from the government over security. The property of two candidates have been attacked by unknown men in the past 24 hours in the Valley with petrol bombs.”However, Additional Director General Police-Law and Order (ADGP) Muneer Ahmad Khan said many contestants have been put up in hired hotels, guarded by heavy contingents of police and paramilitary forces. About 3,000 candidates are in the fray across J&K for elections to 1,145 wards across 79 municipal bodies, starting October 8.