“Inspirational. Epic. Heart-warming. Empowering. Living legend. The Pride of India. The best meeting I ever attended.”
These were some of the comments made by people at the end of two-hour interaction with sporting legend Dr Deepa Malik who was New Zealand to receive the Sir Edmund Hillary Fellowship from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Woman of Firsts
Deepa, who is paralysed below the chest, is indeed a living legend.
She created history by becoming the first ever Indian female para-athlete to win an Asian Games medal in athletics as well as the first ever female World Championship medal.
The International Paralympic Committee named her as one of the ‘Ten Most Inspirational Women Para-Athletes of the World.’ She holds Four Limca World Records in the Adventure Category. In 2017, the ‘Great Asia Women Achievers Awards’ named her one of the top 10 Asian Women Leaders.
The Meeting, held on Monday, May 6, 2019, was organised by ‘Haryana in New Zealand’ at the premises of the Indian Association (Manukau) New Zealand (IAMNZ) in Papatoetoe, Auckland, with the support of 17 Indian Associations.
Diaspora in attendance
When we heard that Deepa, who is a Haryanvi, will be in Auckland enroute to Wellington, we requested her for a meeting.
We wanted the entire Indian diaspora to attend, and Veer Khar and Roy Kaunds, respectively President and Secretary of IAMNZ instantly offered their venue and partner with other Indian associations.
As a guest of the Government, Deepa’s travel and stay were arranged by of Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry helped in including our meeting in Deepa’s official itinerary. A part of the event was co-facilitated by Black Caps Test Opener Jeet Raval and ‘I Am Woman Trust’ Chair Anuradha Sharma.
Deepa was accompanied by her daughter Devika, who is also an accomplished and celebrated social worker.
The meeting began with a short Ted Talk-style soliloquy where Deepa recounted her tragic, moving and inspirational story. She was an independent adventure-loving, motor-bike riding girl who married a boy who promised to gift her a motorcycle.
But tragedy stuck in 1999 when first her daughter Devika was badly injured in an accident and was paralysed on one side of the body. Then her husband who was a Colonel in the Indian Army was called up to fight in Kargil. At the same time, doctors discovered that Deepa, just 29, had developed tumours in her spine and the only way to save her life was to sever the spinal code which would leave her paralysed for life.
She described how her entire life just changed in a matter of a week.
However, the tragedy changed her entire outlook. From total helplessness and despair, she started rebuilding her life.
She established a restaurant, became an entrepreneur and then ventured into sports.
By the age of 36, she was competing internationally. As well as the first-ever Indian paraplegic woman swimmer, biker and car rallyist, she has 23 international medals and 68 national and state level medals in swimming, javelin, shotput and discus events.
She is the first Indian to receive the ‘International Women’s Day Recognition’ from the International Paralympic Committee for her contribution to advancing disability sports for women in India. She also holds a world record in open river swimming for swimming across the Yamuna River for one kilometre against the current.
Deepa drove customised cars and motorbikes to become the first physically challenged person in the world to get a rally licence to compete in the ‘Raid-de-Himalaya’ car rally on the world’s highest motorable road.
Awards and Accolades
Deepa is a recipient of many Awards including Padma Shri, the Arjuna Award, President’s National Role Model Award, Women Transforming India Award and First Ladies Award as well as five state government honours.
She is now the recipient of New Zealand’s Sir Edmund Hillary Fellowship for 2019.
Ability beyond Disability
During an interaction sessions hosted by Mr Raval and Ms Sharma, the visiting dignitary played videos which explained the current activities of Deepa and Devika, which included ‘Wheeling Happiness,’ an NGO which inspires disabled people do things that they would normally avoid. Her Mantra is ‘Ability Beyond Disability.’
The Organisation assists in training and sports equipment requirements of parasports persons and empowers people from lower socio-economic strata to do well in life.
The foundation has thus far provided more than 500 mobility aiding devices.
Deepa is a member of the Government of India’s Working Group for the Formulation of the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) and contributes to create policies for the physically challenged.
She is an Expert Consultant for Disability Inclusive Accessible Infrastructure for the ‘Smart Cities’ project of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
She has recently been inducted as a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Mr Khar presented Deepa a copy of ‘Indian Settlers: The Story of a New Zealand South Asian Community,’ written by Jacqueline Leckie (now Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Gender and Sociology, University of Otago).
She was also facilitated by Narendra Reddy Patlola, Srilatha Magatala, Dr Upendra Saklani and Alston D’Silva, respectively Presidents of the New Zealand Telangana Association, Telugu Association of New Zealand, Uttarakhand Association of New Zealand and Indian New Zealand Catholic Association. Kunnal Sharma honoured her on behalf of the Waitakere Indian Association.
I had the privilege of presenting a Commemorative Plaque on behalf of Haryana in New Zealand, joined by officials of 17 Associations, making it a truly Indian Diaspora event.
Sunil Kaushal is President, ‘Haryana in New Zealand,’ an Association dedicated to further the interests of Haryanavis in Aotearoa.