Deepa Malik is undoubtedly one of the most inspirational personalities today.
Paralysed below the chest since her thirties, the 48-year-old is one of India’s most celebrated para-athletes and is a very visible and eloquently vocal champion of not just physically challenged sportspeople but also of all differently abled persons in India and beyond.
Her sports record is incredible: the first Indian woman to win a medal in the Paralympic Games, she has gone on to win over 80 medals and awards in different forms of sport in India and across the world, including the prestigious Indian Arjuna Award. As well as athletics, she has participated and won accolades and awards in motorsport, participating in some of the longest and toughest car rallies.
She was in New Zealand earlier this month to receive the prestigious Sir Edmund Hillary Fellowship. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern bestowed the Fellowship on Ms Malik in Wellington.
The India New Zealand Business Council along with the Auckland Indian Association and other Indian community organisations organised Ms Malik’s talk at Auckland’s Mahatma Gandhi Centre on May 10.
Ms Malik’s aim at pursuing and achieving success at different sport in spite of her physical circumstances is to spread awareness that physically challenged individuals can attain independence and self-reliance by applying their minds at pushing themselves to achieve more. She undertakes several programmes across platforms to spread such awareness.
She is one of the most eloquent and engaging speakers one could come across and held her audience spellbound for the duration of her address. She related her life story, the seemingly insurmountable challenges her illnesses heaped on her and how through sheer grit, determination and unalloyed positivity, she came up trumps over all of them.
She spoke in flawless English but threw in Hindi phrases for good measure, connecting extremely well with her audience, raising a laugh here and lusty applause there. She is clearly as good a communicator as she is an athlete, advocate and an incredibly high-achieving personality.
Ms Malik peppered her address with a series of videos of her various activities in sporting, her growing advocacy initiatives for which she is being increasingly recognised and feted and her social-entrepreneurial nous, with which she is taking empowerment of physically challenged people to the far corners of India and even the world.
A brief question and answer session followed her address and that of her young daughter Devika, also physically challenged, who is treading her mother’s path of advocacy armed with academic qualifications appropriate to her calling and a similar gift for excellent communication.
Asked by a member of the audience if Indian attitudes to disability had changed over the years, Ms Malik said she was vary much a product of that milieu and that system and her achievements were proof that anything could be achieved in India with the right attitude and application.
Throughout her talk, she stood up for her beloved motherland in the true patriotic spirit of her family’s armed forces background (both father and husband have been Indian Army colonels) and underscored her pride in the all round progress that India was making especially in providing access, funding and facilities to the cause of the physically challenged.
Ms Malik works tirelessly for the physically challenged through a plethora of organisations focusing on tourism, sport, education and other fields of human endeavour.
Honorary Consul of India in Auckland Bhav Dhillon welcomed Ms Malik while community leaders addressed the gathering before her address. Rizwan Mohammad was the MC and the evening concluded with the audience spending time chatting with Ms Malik and Devika over tea and snacks hosted by the Auckland Indian Association.