Deepa Malik came into the limelight after becoming the first Indian woman to win a silver medal at the 2016 Summer Paralympics shot put event. Speaking about winning the medal, the athlete says, “It has given me love, recognition, awards, and it won’t be wrong to say, a “celebrity” feel. On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 December), HT speaks with the champion about her journey, challenges and victories.
How has life changed after you won the medal?
It has changed a lot. I feel blessed to be a medium of change through this medal. This medal is not just mine; it is the first Indian woman’s medal (in para sports). It is quite a paradox — it makes me happy, but it also makes me think that has it taken 70 years for a woman in independent India to win a medal. I think the next medal should not take another 70 years. It has given me the power and the ability to speak with conviction about things that need to be addressed. It has given me a stronger voice. I was already doing a lot of advocacy, and now it [the medal] makes people believe more in what I had said. It’s great for para sports in India.
How has the journey been?
I think disability has given me direction and perspective in life. It has taught me to count my blessings. I learned to learn, because learning is what makes you a winner. I learned how to deal —both emotionally and psychologically — with the disability. I learnt the challenges, and I saw the larger picture as an educated citizen of India — how there are taboos and norms about physical disabilities. I then set out to break stereotypes and do my bit to change the myth around disability, especially for women in a wheelchair.
Is there stigma attached to disability in our society?
Definitely. But a lot has changed. I have been paralysed for more than 17 years. I think with the media, the social media, awareness activities, the NGOs and the government policies, there is a tremendous difference. Of course, a lot still needs to be done. But we are getting there.
Who is your support system?
It is team work. It is my family, friends, coaches and my biker community, who encouraged me, so I could pursue a sports career. My husband, Vikram Malik, took a sabbatical and changed his schedule as per my routine.
Apart from sports, what are your other interests?
I am known to be a biker. I love swimming and cooking. I am fond of happy and romantic movies. I love ghazals and sufi songs, and also like listening to ‘Chikni chameli’ (Agneepath; 2012) and ‘Sheila ki jawani’ (Tees Maar Khan; 2010) (laughs). I am a fan of perfection in terms of creativity.
What would you like to further accomplish?
Besides sports, I want to take on bigger roles in advocacy and encouraging more people to come forward. I would love to work for women empowerment, especially with regard to disability. Public transportation and infrastructure have been an issue. So to get a training programme under one roof — a state of art wheel-chair academy for sportspersons — would be a dream.
One philosophy that you believe in…
Life is the only festival that you can celebrate every day.