It’s not a new thing when one hears that persons with disabilities are being disrespected in India. Time and again, news of misbehavior, cruelty and discrimination against the differently abled people come out. Every time as a society, we tend to think over it and then a new case emerges few days later, even more heinous than the previous one.

This time, the case was of disrespect towards our hearing impaired contingent of 46 sportspersons who came back to the country after winning 6 medals including a Gold-medal for the nation. When the contingent reached Indira Gandhi International Airport at New Delhi, they were in a shock that nobody from the sports ministry or sports authority of India (SAI) came to receive them. This is when the players have won medals for the nation.

The players refused to leave the airport as a form of protest against the apathy shown by the government towards them. These players were coming back from Deaflympics, 2017 which was held in Turkey. Deaflympics, as the word suggests, is the Olympics of the deaf people. This was one of the best performances of the Indian contingent at the event. Even after performing so well and giving their best, all they wanted was a bit of appreciation from the government and society.

Their expectation is very just and that’s why they protested at the airport. Had they not protested most of us wouldn’t have known about this case. Secondly, after the issue came up, many people got to know that something like ‘Deaflympics’ exists, which is different from ‘Paralympics’. All the players were quite disheartened by the attitude of the government towards them.

They demanded just treatment and respect. This is not just a one off case. Differently-abled people have faced discrimination in India since ages. As a society, we need to hang our heads in shame. We should question ourselves why this kind of treatment was given to this contingent. Is that simply because they are differently-abled? Are their achievements any the lesser than those of the able-bodied? In fact is not their struggle far more, and their performance even that more admirable?

If the answer is yes, to anyone of the above questions then we shouldn’t call ourselves a ‘civilized society’. India is a country with one of the largest disabled population on the planet. According to World Bank Data, we have somewhere around 80-100 million disabled people in the country while as per the 2011 population census, the number stands 26.7 million people. Most of the disabled people live their lives in appalling conditions and in abject poverty. Only very few of them manage to live a decent life with respect in society.

In these conditions, when a differently-abled gets a chance to become a sportsperson and not only participate in global events but win medals there, it’s a rare moment. Coming back to this issue, the Indian contingent participated in a total of eight disciplines at the games. Out of those eight disciplines, medals were won in three disciplines. Indian contingent won gold and bronze in wrestling, bronze in lawn tennis and silver in golf,.

Speaking to the media the team interpreter of the contingent remarked, “The day we won the medals, we told the government that we have made the nation proud. These medal winners made the nation proud, but no one, not even the sports minister, is here to welcome us.” These statements clearly show how disappointed the team was.

The question which arises here is that do we treat our able-bodied Olympic medal winners the same way, as was done in this case? Clearly no, in fact the entire nation would have felt proud of their achievements and they would had been felicitated by the government and many private players, which is the exactly how the things should be.

In this case, it didn’t happen, precisely because achievements of differently abled are not seen as par with the achievements of able-bodied people. Their achievements are seen as only second to the achievements of able-bodied people. Though, after the news spread out many former sportspersons came out in the support of the team. Krishna Poonia, the gold medalist at the 2010 Commonwealth games said that these players should be encouraged and should be provided with facilities at par with the para athletes.

To sum it up, this was a case of total apathy against the hearing impaired contingent who won laurels for India. We as a society continue to fail our differently abled people time and again. It’s high time that our society and our government realizes we can’t become a great nation until things like these continues.