46 Indian athletes went to 23rd Deaflympics in Samsun, Turkey and won 5 medals. One gold, one silver and 3 bronze. The best performance till date for India in any Olympics classification, whether it be Summer Olympics, Winter Olympics, Paralympics, Special Olympics or Deaflympics. The team was proud. They were jubilant. They informed the Sports Ministry officials their arrival time at Delhi IGI airport – the morning of August 1 - and was anticipating a big welcome for a team that brought such unprecedented laurels for the country. But they were mistaken. When they came out of the arrival lounge, there was nobody to receive them. None. They were disappointed beyond words. Was it a mistake? No. It was not. It was a case of stark apathy, gross indifference and blatant coldness. What else could you say about this?
In Rio India sent 117 athletes and got one silver and one bronze. There was jubilation all over the country for earning 2 medals. Summer Olympics has its own aura of universal importance. But Deaflympics as a distant poor cousin is still in Olympic family. The Indian deaf athletes who competed alongside 3000 others from 97 countries and won 5 medals including a gold and a silver have to be celebrated. In medal tally they are the 26th. Ignoring their accomplishment was a grave mistake that this country did. There are no excuses. The sports ministry should have shown due respect for their hard work and achievements. It is still not listed on their website as of 8 am on August 5. I believe they should apologize for this. The Sports Minister should receive the Indian contingent to Deaflympics and take them to the Prime Minister for a photo opportunity. This is the least they can do now. I hope it will be done soon before the issue leaves an unhealable scar on the minds of these athletes and all of the persons with disabilities in this country.
India passed the RPWD Act 2016 in Parliament with both Houses of Parliament coming together in a rare unanimous vote. This was the second Bill after the original PWD Act 1995. It is a comprehensive Bill that encompasses 21 listed disabilities and ensures clauses for the rightful education, employment and equal opportunity. There are clauses that emphasizes enforcement and the States have been asked to formulate rules based on the Act. There are different schemes started under the Ministry of Social Justice for the empowerment and inclusion of those with disabilities in the country. We are expecting a lot of changes that will happen in the country in the next few years. The Central Government is getting ready to establish a National University for Rehabilitation and Disability Studies. When such major initiatives are going on, the omission on the part of the officials in the Sports Ministry brings to light one major issue. Sensitizing the government officials from top to bottom is as important as issuing orders and starting schemes and allocating money.
There is a lot of misgivings, doubts, ignorance, wrong notions, superstitions associated with disability in our culture. This is not something that happened overnight or in recent years. The roots are way back deep in thousands of years of history. Starting from the beginning of civilizations probably. In the last few decades, considerable research has been done, laws have been passed, which will help remove the stigma and create an inclusive society. Winds of change are blowing around the globe. And India is a part of the change.
For a person who has a sibling, a child, a spouse, a relative, a close friend with disability the perspectives and the knowledge about disability are real. However, residual trauma, lingering superstitions, and persistent stigma often prevent the family from doing the best of what can be done. For the general population, the situation is worse. Sensitivity is non-existent.The first set of people who needs to change are those in authority. That includes the ministers, the elected representatives, officials. The sensitivity has to trickle down.Conducting melas where wheel chairs are doled out to paraplegics, calling persons with disabilities with a different name are all show-offs. Those are all photo-ops for those in power that they hope will translate into votes in the next election. These superficial trivialities are meaningless to those who have a passion for the human rights of those with disabilities. What we need is real action. What we need is a change of heart. What we need is empathy. What we need is inclusion in reality.
I wish the Prime Minister of India and our Sports Minister will show the way. Then there will be a change that will trickle down to the lowest level and our country will see a major transformation.
I am dreaming of that day when persons using wheel chairs can travel seamlessly and enjoy the scenic beauty on a hill, a lake or a beach on his own, use the bathrooms in any public place with dignity and ease.I am dreaming of that day when the deaf can communicate with their family and friends, get a decent education and work alongside their hearing peers with poise and pride.I am dreaming of that day when the blind person can travel without fear and be accepted at every place he stops and be treated with respect.I am dreaming of that day when a person in the Autism spectrum will receive the services he or she needs and function in an inclusive society without the fear of being overwhelmed or intimidated.I am dreaming for that inclusive society where my country will be transformed in its core.A country that will respect everyone and include each one as they are.
t is a long path ahead, but we must take determined steps one at a time . We must march on till we overcome!