The Paralympics torched itself to a grand start on the 8th of September and the world suddenly had greater issues to address. My news feed felt like an after-party house from the recent Olympic farewell and it was quiet and calm. We had moved on. After repeatedly googling the happenings at Rio and bookmaking the official website, I came to know India had won 4 medals including 2 golds, one silver and one bronze. I rushed to every progressive page I was aware about to see if there were professionally taken pictures of these players with their stories and taglines. Zilch. I realized I wasn’t a world savior either after I calculated the dead ratio of shared posts on my own profile.
So what was it, then? We’re not bad people, we do care about the disabled, every other minority and who doesn’t love the Olympics? Then what kept us all from celebrating these wonderful victories this country has ever had the privilege to taste? The answer lies in the acceptance of our own impartiality. We’re biased and it is OKAY to know that.
Differences exist but they do not exist enough to measure the potential considering the fact that the first ever disabled athlete, George Eyser (Germany) competed in the able-bodied Olympic games. He won 6 medals in a single day within Gymnastic events with one artificial leg. It was 1904. This and such unknown facts are enough to take down all the “uniqueness” that we cherish in Paralympics which glorifies the athletes’ disability. They’re played on the same field, they are umpired by the same rules and the medal is as gold, silver, bronze as the regular one. The only difference is the way you and I see it.
“You’re such an inspiration”, “There is no such thing as an excuse” and other such emotionally strong statements are ready to burst out as soon as we see a player with down syndrome, weight-lifting or a sprint runner on wheelchairs. The Guardian journalist Frances Ryan calls this ‘inspiration porn’ where we equate disability with inspiration, to objectify athletes for the benefit of those watching. “Superhuman” is another term frequently used in motivational videos, and was recently used in a British advertisement featuring Paralympic athletes which is widely appreciated for using disabled performers in its video.
While the fight with discrimination has moved up a notch for champion countries like Britain and USA, India still has a long (really long) way to go. With an extremely corrupt system and selfie-hungry officials, the country’s entire sport structure stays on life support. Leave alone the post-games condition of the Paralympic athletes which are as tragic as their impairments. Media can be undoubtedly blamed forever but it’s time we start blaming ourselves too a little. Remember, media only shows what is received well.
Suchandra Ganguly, founder of the Civilian Welfare Foundation, a Kolkata-based NGO that works with the Para athletes brought in light, the misery of Indian athletes and called out the discrimination by the media. In a press conference she said,
“It’s an irony that Mr Modi has wished them luck but no Indian network including (national broadcasters) Doordarshan has come forward to show the feed. “Paralympics will go unnoticed and the athletes effort will be buried if media also choose to ignore them. We are not asking for sympathy but due coverage of their honest effort. They also give their best to win laurels for the country and it’s not recreational sport,”
Like the heart pounding victory of P.V Sindhu, the first women to win a silver in badminton, we have a lot of firsts in the Paralympics as well – The first female athlete to win a silver in shot put, the first athlete to win two golds in these games and the first athletes to win medals in an event like high jump. Yes, the first athletes and not Paralympic athletes because they work as hard as the able-bodied and they fight a much intense battle than them. If comparison needs to be established, let it be both ways. By the way, did you know there is also a Special Olympics for the intellectually impaired and ‘Deaflympics’ for deaf athletes that goes parallel with Paralympics with a participation of over 170 countries? I will let you find out about them.
But again, no constant updates were seen, no posts were made and no sofas were exhausted from all the zestful jumping when these athletes delivered a dignified performance. A performance that even broke the Olympic records. Yes, it wasn’t on TV and we’re too lazy to browse through the internet for such news but active to browse endless memes.
You know normalcy is still supposed to be fought for, when famous sports commentators like Novy Kapadia are ready to state the “difference between the level of competition”, when asked how these athletes are out-doing the optimistic Olympic performance.
“The competition at the Olympics is much tougher,” where Indian athletes compete with counterparts from around 200 countries”
Using the term “tougher” here shows us the utter eagerness to justify the poor performance of athletes along with discriminating the differently abled. What “tougher” are we really talking about here? The number of participant countries remain the same and the picture below is enough to demolish the so called difference of difficulty level.
The media remains focused on cricket and Google does not have an automated outlay of schedule and results as it did for the other ones. Why? Simply because this is less important, because there is no Usain Bolt, no Michael Phelps and because we are busy enough to not know about it but have just enough time to attain that “inspiration” when we see a tossed video with a sad piano music in the background.
The bigotry is concealed and resides in those unreachable corners from where we can only smell it. Nobody likes to be called prejudiced but accepting it is the first step towards a clear defeat. Devendra Jhajhariya, Mariyappan Thangavelu, Rohan Singh, and Deepa Malik (who grappled a spinal tumor, 31 surgeries and 183 stitches before bagging a silver in Shot put event) are some of the names we will never remember in future just like this article which will fade away in the sea of Facebook posts. But what we will always be reminded of is that stale smell of blatant bias that we need to confront.