Honour, reward for hard work
Deepa Malik and wrestler Bajrang Punia became the latest to be awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award.
2016 Paralympics silver medallist Deepa talks about the significance of the award and also targets naysayers who look down upon the competition in para-sports.
Congratulations on the Khel Ratna. Who do you dedicate this award to?
I dedicate this award to my late father Col (retd) BK Nagpal. My father had been suffering from cancer and 30th April was the last date for the submission of the Khel Ratna application in 2018. It is also the date when I lost my father. So the last discussions I had with my father before he slipped into his final sleep were on how I was preparing the Khel Ratna file. He would draft it for me, change the language, suggest I had missed out on highlighting my achievement or would tell me to rephrase a sentence. He died with the hope that I will get the Khel Ratna so I am very happy that I got this award as this was his final wish.
You have been sending your applications for the last three years. Were you hopeful of getting it this time?
I kept on adding medals every year so I think my points increased as per the award scheme. But my job was to keep working hard and continue to make our country proud and keep on winning new medals. There is a competent jury that has to look at other aspirants as well so I am happy that the jury took an inclusive approach and treated our medals at par with the abled-bodied athletes and showed awareness regarding para-sports.
There is always talk that para-sports should not be bunched together with abled-bodied competitions. Why do you think about this negative portrayal regarding para-sports?
There is no negative connotation regarding our sports. All of this is stemming from a general lack of awareness regarding para-sports. Our selection process is different. Disabled athletes go through a filtering process because we have several categories. There is only one 100 metres race for abled-bodied athletes but in our sports there may be close to 30 races depending upon the classification of disabled athlete. International Paralympic Committee’s filtering process is very strict. People think there is less competition but this is not correct. I am glad that this tough process was recognised by the current committee. In the past they used to think our Games were held just for formality or it is done for charity. Now that we are getting integrated with the training programmes and are being coached by abled-bodied coaches, picture is getting clearer. Now they know that ours is not an easy platform to perform.
There are reports you are planning to change your discipline in coming times?
At the 2020 Olympics, discus throw has been included in my category of classification. But I don’t play this so how can anyone expect that I’ll be part of the Games. So I am not in contention for the 2020 Games. So till the time I wait for new a announcement about my category, to keep fit I am training to make a record in sea-swimming. I have been training in the swimming pool. Recently to get a feel of sea water I went to Maldives where I practised scuba diving and sea swimming. I will be 50 years in 2020 and the plan is to make a record to celebrate my golden jubilee year.
How do you explain your profile in today’s time?
My journey began more as an activist than a sportsperson. I have always stood for this concept of ability beyond disability and for policies.