Leaving No One Behind: Paralympian Deepa Malik On Creating An Inclusive Society

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New Delhi: Dettol and NDTV have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014. This year, as we step into the eighth season of the campaign, our aim is One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind because only when health is ensured for all can a nation become prosperous as Swasth Bharat is Sampann Bharat. To kick-start season 8, the NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India team hosted a special Facebook Live session with Dr. Deepa Malik, someone who has continually risen above all odds, braving chest below paralysis for over two decades, to understand how we, as a nation, can build an inclusive society, leaving no one behind. Dr Malik is India’s first paraplegic woman biker, swimmer, rallyist and also India’s first-ever female Paralympic medalist. Today she is enabling other people with disabilities through her foundation Wheeling Happiness.

Also Read: One Health, One Planet, One Future As The Theme, NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India Campaign Moves On To Season 8

Here are some excerpts from our discussion with Dr Deepa Malik, Padma Shri, Khel Ratna and Arjuna Awardee.

NDTV: You started your career only at the age of 30. You could have given up and resigned to fate like most people would do. But you went on to win a medal. What inspired you?

Dr Deepa Malik: I think what inspired me was the quest for identity. Having lost the body to paralysis, I didn’t want to be known as a sad person or as a person who is considered a liability, a source of negativity n the home for my children, husband and family. I wanted to be just a person; a person who could be looked upon as somebody who is fit, happy and a regular person and in that quest, I just chose to do a few things which eventually turned out to be breaking stereotypes. The country had done it and even joining sports was just an extension of that breaking the stereotype kind of a journey; ability beyond disability journey.

NDTV: Could you please tell us about your initiative ‘Wheeling Happiness’ which is actually turning disability to ability?

Dr Deepa Malik: In my childhood, I suffered tumours and paralysis for about four years. I had some major surgeries, rehabilitation and a stint with a disability, if I may call it. When my elder daughter was born, my firstborn child met with an accident, had a severe head injury, leading to paralysis on the left of her body. So, again, I had to deal with disability in the childhood of my child, only for it to come back at the young age of 30 years. Tumour came back and I was paralysed chest down. Practically the experience of facing taboos around disability continuously over a long period of time – saw mine, then a decade and a half later, saw my child’s disability and another decade later, I saw my disability again. I realised, nothing has changed around disability. India may have progressed; there may be a lot of education, computers, the internet, technology coming into the country, but when it comes to thoughts around disability, it’s still negative. People don’t know how to deal with people with disabilities. People are not sensitive enough for infrastructure to be disabled-friendly. There are not many opportunities.

Also Read: One Health, One Planet, One Future: ‘It Is Crucial To Leave No One Behind In Order To Grow As A Nation,’ Says Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar

That’s when we decided that the kind of troubles that we have faced as a mother-daughter duo. And I give a lot of credit to Devika (my daughter) for that because she brought in the younger perspective; that younger perspective was to let’s formalize the way we help people. Wheeling happiness was made because we were telling people to identify their source of happiness, revive and rejuvenate them, and we will support them in achieving it. Then people thought sitting on the wheelchair, I will only be wheeling sadness. We converted it and made it wheeling happiness.

NDTV: How far have we come in the last 75 years when it comes to inclusion? How much more do we need to go to actually bring that inclusion?

Dr Deepa Malik: Improvement is change and change is progress. So, if we say we have done it all, that would be wrong. We have definitely moved in a positive direction on topics around women empowerment, inclusion, getting the marginalized section involved in the progress and their individual progress. There is so much talk around ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’, ‘Sugamya Bharat’, accessibility, and even if I talk about the para-sports, it is a huge level up and a huge medium to touch the hearts of the people. If Paralympics sport is growing in the country, it is definitely changing mindsets. But I still feel we definitely have a long way to go.

When you see the focus of the governance and the policies are inclusive they are bound to trickle down in the system. Execution is more dependent on every human being individually. The policies can be made and kept in the books, on the panels, in the constitution, but the government is also for the people, by the people, of the people. If people don’t join in, get sensitised enough to ensure that there is an implementation of every such thought of the prime minister, a fusion of every policy that has been brought in place, so a lot of responsibility lies on the citizens as well.

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NDTV: What are some of the challenges faced by people with disabilities and how can we combat them?

Dr Deepa Malik: I can sum it up with one word called accessibility – be it in the mindsets, or physical infrastructure, or digitally. Now the whole world has gone digital but how many people have made an effort to make their websites, the digital interface accessible? There are methods of making every website disabled-friendly but are people really taking it to that level? If there is accessibility, more of us can come out, lead a normal life, participate in things where we can also get an opportunity to hone skills and give back to the country.

NDTV: What has been the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities in India?

Dr Deepa Malik: Honestly, people with disabilities have taken it better than people without disabilities because we are already used to lockdowns in our lives. We are already used to not being able to step out that often or probably have more chance to livelihood because these things are challenged. These are not so readily available for people with disabilities. But, yes, when you are already dependent on a lot of help, then it becomes difficult. For example, I need a physio to visit me every day. If I have to travel from place A to B, I need two people to assist me. But the lockdown took away that assistance.

The worst hit were those who lost breadwinners and the child who lost parents to COVID or whom they were dependent on. Intellectual disability children suffered the most because who is going to take care of them? It did leave a void, a question mark.

Also Read: LGBTQ Community Faces The Double Whammy Of Coronavirus Pandemic And Stigma

NDTV: How can we bring inclusion for people with disabilities?

Dr Deep Malik: Take initiative and be a part of the change. 15 per cent of the world’s population suffers from some form of disability and, it is time that this 15 per cent of the world cannot be ignored. We have to get inclusion and disability at the heart of inclusion. Each one of us suffers a disability or a physical challenge at some or another point in our lives. It’s not about people who are living with disabilities. It could be an advanced stage of pregnancy where a lady needs more assistance.

You cannot be a superpower or the largest economy when each one of us is not participating. Everybody’s participation is involved in holistic growth and in any case, the health of a nation, society, directly depends on how the women, elderly and the people with disabilities in that society are treated.

NDTV: How to protect people with disabilities from the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Dr Deepa Malik: If you want to save anybody, forget about people with disabilities. There are just two basic steps: first, ensure they get vaccinated because vaccination drive is equally important for people with disabilities. Either support them to go to the vaccination booth or ensure that the vaccination reaches their residents if they are challenged in mobility. Second, be a responsible citizen. Wear the mask so that people around you are safe. Don’t be a spreader.

Also Read: Union Health Ministry Issues Guidelines For COVID Vaccination At Home For People With Special Needs

NDTV: What facilities have been made for disabled people and what is the government doing on vaccines for the disabled?

Dr Deepa Malik: The government has tried to make accessible booths. I myself had gone and got vaccinated at one of such booths. They are choosing spots and centres where there are universal accessibilities. They are also coming out to the vehicle and giving injections inside the vehicle. I got my second dose sitting in the car. They did not want to bother me by coming out. There are a lot NGOs also that work for this. For example, we partnered with Swayam, an NGO initiative in Delhi. They started eight special accessible vans. You can just log in and request the van to take you to the vaccination centre.

NDTV: How can people with disabilities be helped and how medicines and other facilities can be made available to them?

Dr Deepa Malik: If every individual takes 500 square metres around you and say, I want to help anybody who meets and if 85 per cent of people without disabilities take that onus, the 15 per cent can easily be helped.

Also Read: COVID-19 Vaccines Effective Against Delta Variant Of Novel Coronavirus: US Study

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

World 23,15,49,943 Cases 19,39,04,517 Active 3,29,02,351 Recovered 47,43,075 Deaths Coronavirus has spread to 195 countries. The total confirmed cases worldwide are 23,15,49,943 and 47,43,075 have died; 19,39,04,517 are active cases and 3,29,02,351 have recovered as on September 26, 2021 at 3:48 am.

Sumit Antil: It’s my personal choice to be nominated for Arjuna Award first

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Tokyo Paralympics gold medallist Sumit Antil on Friday said it’s his wish to be nominated for the Arjuna Award.

Throwing light on why he was keen to be nominated for the Arjun Award and not the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award, the para-athlete said: “It is my personal choice that I want to take Arjuna award first because, from my childhood, I had heard about the award. Any big athlete I heard about or saw would first get the Arjuna Award. From childhood, I dreamt of Arjuna Award.”

Commenting on the Khel Ratna Award, he said: “In the future, I would definitely like to get it with my performance, but right now I would want the Arjuna Award. But it’s up to the government and committee to take the final call and I feel that will be the best decision.”

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The Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) has also recommended the names of shooter Manish Narwal, high jumper Sharad Kumar, shuttler Pramod Bhagat and javelin thrower Sundar Singh Gurjar for Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award 2021. All four brought laurels for India in the recently concluded Tokyo Paralympics.

Deepa Malik, the President of the PCI, said winning the award will motivate athletes to perform well in the Paris Games in 2024. “Our players did so well in this paralympic and we are proud of them. These awards will motivate them to put more effort in the next Games and they deserve that too as they have made the nation proud,” Deepa Malik told ANI.

Last month, Union Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Anurag Thakur said the medal winners in the Tokyo Paralympics will be rewarded at this year’s National Sports Awards and hence the ceremony was postponed.

Tokyo medal haul creates more visibility for Paralympians but parity a work in progress

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“Central govt was amazing and the foundations have done great work but no corporate has approached us. Delhi govt hasn’t said anything”” — Sharad Kumar, High Jump Bronze medallist

“People keep asking me about getting a job. I just want to focus on Paris 2024 but I also have bank loans to repay, so I will have to somehow balance both” — Jyoti Balyan, Para archer at Tokyo

“In India, people always want to do cricket or Bollywood but we have got a lot of queries from brands after Tokyo. By 2024, the noise around para athletes is likely to double” — Namrata Parekh Cofounder, Meraki Sport & Entertainment

For the 23-year-old para athlete Sumit Antil, the recent Tokyo Paralympics have been life-changing. Antil had taken up the javelin after his dream of becoming a wrestler was cut short when a tractor hit his two-wheeler in 2015; he had to get his left leg amputated. The long slog since then paid off at Tokyo. He won a gold medal — part of India’s historic 19-medal haul this year — and set a world record of 68.55 m.His state Haryana announced a reward of Rs 6 crore — at par with what it offered Olympic gold medallist in javelin Neeraj Chopra — and a government job. Antil says he is also in talks with three-four brands for endorsement deals. “This (choosing sports) was a very risky path because you are competing with lakhs of athletes and your chances of success are very limited. Now, I am very relieved because my family will be secure. I only have to worry about my sport,” says Antil, a native of Sonepat, who lost his father when he was very young.Like Haryana, which incidentally pioneered equal rewards in 2012, several state governments came forward for their para athlete medallists with cash awards and offers of governments job this year — from Rajasthan which announced Rs 3 crore for the shooter Avani Lekhara, the first Indian woman to win a gold at the Paralympics, to Uttarakhand, which gave Rs 50 lakh and a government job to para shuttler and bronze medallist Manoj Sarkar and announced the renaming of a sports stadium in Rudrapur after him. The medal bounty at Tokyo has created more visibility and rewards for India’s Paralympians.India has indeed come a long way from the reception it gave to Murlikant Petkar, who won the country’s first Paralympic gold at Heidelberg in 1972 and set a world record in 50 m freestyle swimming. “Although I created a record, when I returned to India, there was nothing else apart from the Rs 5,000 I got from the military and a lot of congratulatory messages,” says the former army man, from his flat in Pune, on a Zoom call.There is no disguising the emotion in his voice when he talks about the pride he felt when the Tricolour was hoisted while he took his place on the podium. Yet, it was not until 2016, after India won four medals at the Rio Paralympics, that the country remembered Petkar once again and a cheque for Rs 15 lakh from Sachin Tendulkar reached him, via the nonprofit GoSports Foundation. “Suddenly, there were articles in newspapers seeking my whereabouts. They had to hunt for me,” he recalls.Stakeholders say there has been a sea change after 2016, when India won four medals at the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. “There were 19 athletes and four medallists at Rio. That’s when people actually started noticing para athletes and their achievements,” says Namrata Parekh, cofounder of sports advisory and management agency Meraki, which began working with para athletes in 2015, one of the first to do so. “Things have changed immensely. Deals come with performance so you will see a surge every four years. In terms of long-term engagement and revenue streams, too, there has been a change in perception,” says Parekh, whose agency has seen queries about para athletes multiply after the Tokyo wins. Soft drink major Thums Up, which ran an ad campaign titled “Palat De” around the Olympic team, for example, replicated it with Paralympians this year and was also, for the first time, the partner for the Indian Paralympic team.Deepa Malik, president of the Paralympic Committee of India, was one of the four medallists in 2016. “When I won the medal, I had no idea how the country or state governments would react. But it created a ripple, and started a thought process. After Tokyo, we are seeing that thought translated into action,” says Malik, who won a silver in shot put, becoming the first Indian woman Paralympic medallist. A popular motivational speaker, Malik, who is paralysed from the waist down, has been part of several brand campaigns, the latest for MG Motor.Amit Kumar Saroha, who came fourth in club and discus throw at Tokyo, says, “After Rio, the picture began changing. Brands began approaching athletes, there has been a lot of support from the government, and more associations have come forward as well.”Much of this change in mindset has been driven by shifts in policy over the years, according to Deepthi Bopaiah, executive director of GoSports Foundation, which has been working with para athletes since 2008 and supported seven athletes who won eight medals this year. “When Haryana announced the same prize money for the Paralympic winner as for the Olympic winner, that was a big deal. Earlier, javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia and Deepa Malik were given Khel Ratna. The minute recognition starts happening at the policy level, a lot of other things get equalled,” says Bopaiah. Para athletes were also supported by the government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme, as part of which Rs 8.2 crore was spent on para sports.Malik, who has conducted sessions with para athletes on how to use social media effectively and worked with Facebook and Twitter to get their accounts verified, says that while a beginning has been made, there is a long road ahead for parity, be it in brand endorsements or other forms of recognition. “There is improvement but it is not the same. If I compare the reception for my silver with what (PV) Sindhu got, that’s evidently not the same,” she says.The women’s hockey team, which came fourth at the Tokyo Olympics, was greeted with cash awards but no para athlete who made it to the fourth place has been similarly recognised. Like archer Jyoti Balyan, daughter of a farmer in Goyla, Uttar Pradesh, who came fourth at the Tokyo Paralympics.“Sometimes I question what I have achieved, since only medallists get recognition,” says Balyan, whose late father had to take a loan to buy her the right bow. She would like to devote all her attention to Paris 2024, but adds that relatives keep asking her about getting a job. “I don’t want to be disturbed but we also have bank loans to repay, so I’ll have to balance both.” But there is no ignoring the impact she has had on her village where, earlier, girls were not encouraged to step outside their homes. “Now they are beginning to feel that their daughters can also try it out, like me,” she says.Sharad Kumar, 27, who has won a bronze medal in high jump, is despondent. “At first, I thought that after winning, people’s perception will change and that I will become popular. But it’s been 15 days and I now know that it doesn’t matter, because I’m a para athlete,” he says. Kumar, who is appreciative of PM Narendra Modi’s encouragement of para athletes, says there has been no monetary recognition, including from the Delhi government. “I wrote them an email over a week ago, saying I have won a medal, but there has been no response.” Monetary rewards, says the athlete who has been training in Ukraine, would have gone some way in making his future secure. “I’m not sure about the future,” says Kumar, whose leg was paralysed by polio.On the road ahead, Malik says she would like the country to realise that people with disabilities can also be part of nation-building. “A person with a disability can bring a lot of abilities to the table, if you give them the opportunity. India today has 19 glorious medals from para athletes. There can be nothing better than a country providing equal opportunities.”