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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can listen to the full Banega Swasth India podcast discussion by hitting the play button on the Spotify player embedded above.
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.