Unique is a word used too frequently in everyday parlance. It suits neither the person nor the occasion it signifies. Once in a while though, a person of real merit comes along for whom there is no other word as befitting as unique. Devika Malik the person we meet in this exhaustive interview is unique. An MPhil student in Sports Psychology at Jain (Deemed-to-be University), Devika has brought laurels to the nation as a para-athlete and as a recipient of the Queen’s Young Leader initiative. Diagnosed with congenital hemiplegia (partial paralysis) at a young age, Devika’s achievements are all the more impressive and inspiring. Read on to find out more.
Tell us about Devika Malik, the person. Where did she grow up, what are her influences?
My father and both my maternal and paternal grandparents are veteran army officers. Because of this, I have spent my growing years in various parts of the country. We had to pack up and move every 2 years and everyone in the family had a very positive outlook towards this. So when asked where I am from, I can proudly and simply state, India. Speaking of influences, this taught me to be adaptable, flexible, accepting and non-judgmental of all kinds of people, traits I truly value.
“So when asked where I am from, I can proudly and simply state, India”
>My family has a strong focus on fitness and giving back to the community and I have been actively engaged in social work since the age of 14. Among other influencers, I have drawn various life lessons from the works of Saints Kabir and Rumi, Kahlil Gibran, Sri Aurobindo, and Ayn Rand
Who introduced you to the Queen’s Young Leader (QYL) initiative?
My mother and I started our NGO, Wheeling Happiness, in July 2014 and one of our main strategies is to utilize sports for social development and well-being of people with disabilities. As a result of this and my active participation in competitive para-sports, I was appointed as an Asian Representative of Commonwealth Youth Sport for Development and Peace (CYSDP) Working Group in a voluntary capacity in the second half of 2014 (www.yourcommonwealth.org/cysdp). Therefore, once actively engaged in the working for the Commonwealth Secretariat, I became aware of the QYL and other such opportunities to showcase my work
How has the Queen’s Young Leader award changed you as a person?
As its most endearing consequence, the recognition I have received through QYL has been a very gratifying validation that the work we are doing is actually making a positive difference in people’s lives. Since the award, I have become more and more engaged and aware of the scenario across Commonwealth nations.
“The recognition I have received through QYL has been a very gratifying validation that the work we are doing is actually making a positive difference in people’s lives”
The award has facilitated us to gain access to some great business leaders, social workers, and other youth leaders across the world. What started as a small desire to do some good is now a serious endeavor for me, and it has been a key driving force in my decision to take up MPhil in Sports Psychology and also my plans to do a Ph.D. in the near future.
Why did you opt for an MPhil in Sports Psychology?
I already have a firm background in Psychology, having completed BA Psychology from Fergusson College Pune and MA Psychology from Delhi University. It is a fact that no formal research work has been undertaken in India in the field of disability sport. A sportsperson with an impairment has to deal not only with the psychological pressures of competitive sport but with the societal implications of disability as well. The Paralympic Movement has gained powerful momentum across the world and to be able to provide world-class facilities and opportunities to para-athletes in India, I believe that it is crucial to undertake research in the domain of disability sports from an Indian standpoint
How or why did you select Jain (Deemed-to-be University) for your MPhil? Your experience so far at the University?
I want to undertake a PhD in Disability Sports in the UK and have applied for scholarships to fulfill this ambition. In the meantime, I wanted to prepare and familiarize myself with research experience in the field of disability sports. When I started my research to find institutions in India, I realized that there are many institutions providing courses in Sports Management, but, in India, it is only Jain (Deemed-to-be University) that allows for study in the domain of Sport Psychology. From the very beginning, Dr. Shailaja Shastri has been very welcoming and supportive, and she is also considerate of my sports and international commitments as a youth leader and para-athlete.
Devika Malik addressing the Forum
When I started my research to find institutions in India, I realized that there are many institutions providing courses in Sports Management, but, in India, it is only Jain (Deemed-to-be University) that allows for study in the domain of Sport Psychology”
Moreover, my MPhil guide, Dr. Meghna is a very inspiring and spirited lady and I really find my interactions with her very enriching. So far, I have really enjoyed my experience and also come across a lot of immensely knowledgeable classmates. However, after my Malta tenure, I have to dedicate more time to my coursework and work more diligently with my guide, Dr. Meghna, who is really devoted to the program.
You are an international para-athlete, what are the challenges that you faced as an athlete?
It is a commonly stated issue in India that not much investment is made in sports other than cricket. However, this is changing with the advent of privatized leagues in many sports nowadays. However, being a disability sports athlete in India still has its challenges. The citizens of this country need to realize that para-sports are as serious and as competitive as non-disabled mainstream sports. This will enable more commercial and Corporate Social Responsibility investment into disability sports and the facilities and opportunities for us will become more robust, which is currently lacking.
You have been selected for the Common Wealth Youth Forum (CYF) to be conducted in Malta as part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). How did it happen and how are you preparing for the event?
My association with CYF is also a result of being engaged with the Commonwealth. Youth Leaders from various walks of life will be attending this forum and have come through different selection processes. In my case, the 60 Queen’s Young Leaders Award Winners were asked to submit applications, and out of these, 2 were selected to participate in the CYF. We are basically supposed to be aware of the themes and sub-themes that have been decided for this year’s CHOGM. So, I have been reading and updating myself regarding the same. Secondly, I will also be co-facilitating a ‘Setting the Context’ workshop with my fellow Commonwealth Youth Sport for Development and Peace (CYSDP) team members during CYF, to make other youth leaders aware of Sport for Development. As the CYSDP team constitutes members from different Commonwealth countries, we have been having Skype connects over the last 2 weeks to plan this workshop.
The initiative you cofounded with your mother Deepa Malik, Wheeling Happiness Initiative, has the slogan “Ability Beyond Disability”. Tell us something more about the concept. From the age of 8 years, I have observed my mother, Deepa Malik, heroically cope with chest down paralysis, and overcome challenges of social mindset and lack of infrastructure. She has gone on to become an internationally recognized para-athlete and adventure sports enthusiast. With a desire to lead from the front and inspire a collective passion towards these causes, my mother and I have established Wheeling Happiness, aimed at enhancing the emotional health of persons living with physical, emotional and social challenges in India.
“However, even those with the best intentions have an outlook of sympathy towards persons with challenges. I hope that our efforts will bring about a shift in this universal mindset and drive people to view persons with challenges as truly valuable and empowered citizens of the world, not just objects of pity”
In today’s global age, awareness regarding disabilities and impairment has been elevated greatly. However, even those with the best intentions have an outlook of sympathy towards persons with challenges. I hope that our efforts will bring about a shift in this universal mindset and drive people to view persons with challenges as truly valuable and empowered citizens of the world, not just objects of pity.
The foundation has already mobilized volunteers and conducted programs, to promote an inclusive society, such as construction of ramps at railway stations, awareness campaigns in schools toward para-sports, free of cost counselling sessions, sensitizing road commuters to follow traffic rules keeping visually and physically impaired pedestrians in view, sponsoring slum children to experience adventure sports and raising funds for artificial limbs for underprivileged users, sponsored participation of 2 underprivileged para-athletes in Asian Para Games 2014, to quote some examples. As the co-founder, I have also represented the foundation at an International Youth Peace Ambassadors’ Workshop held in Phoenix, the USA with a focus on diversity and the indigenous population and delivered a Bright Ideas Talk at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bb07t4ElbEk We at Wheeling Happiness believe in Celebrating Life and the Spirit of Mind Over Body.
You have spoken about the stigmatization of mental illness in our society. Do you believe that sports can bridge the gap between the differently-abled, and a society that is largely insensitive towards them?
Yes, I do believe that sport has the power to bridge this gap. As I have said in my talks, sports takes attention away from the person’s disability and instead forces one to marvel at his/her capability. If we talk specifically in terms of mental disability, this phenomenon has been exhibited again and again when India wins medals at Special Olympics and social media applauds the achievements of the intellectually impaired athletes*. Moreover, sport and play are being increasingly recognized as an effective rehabilitative measure.
On a lighter note, you seem like a big Harry Potter Fan. Any reason for that?
My parents inculcated the habit of reading in me since I was 5 years old, and I started reading Harry Potter at the age of 9. I have grown up with the characters and the magical world created by JK Rowling. The immense detail that has been put into creating this story makes it very real for us fans.
“I would encourage everyone to inculcate the habit of reading, and Harry Potter as a series would help to inculcate many positive life lessons for children as well as adults”
As a child, I believed that I belonged at Hogwarts and would definitely receive my admission letter someday! By the grace of positive energies in the universe, my wish came true in a way, as I was able to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park, while in the USA for a conference in 2014. And then when I went to London to receive my award this year, I was able to visit the studio where the movies were filmed. I am also a big fan of JK Rowling and Emma Watson because of their incredible personalities and philanthropic work. I would encourage everyone to inculcate the habit of reading, and Harry Potter as a series would help to inculcate many positive life lessons for children as well as adults
Favorite sports and athlete
I enjoy athletics track and field events the most. I don’t have any particular favorite athletes, every time I observe an athlete (with or without disability) practicing a sport, I am immensely inspired by their grit and dedication.
Hobbies and passions
As evident, I love to read. Another hobby would be adventure sports. I have done bungee jumping, rafting, trekking, etc., and plan to do scuba diving and sky diving in the near future. I am immensely passionate about traveling and fortunately have visited 10 countries so far on my own merit without spending my parents’ money. I am passionate about the work of Indian scholars in the field of spirituality and am concerned with social issues surrounding disability, gender equality, education, and food waste.
What does the future behold for Devika Malik?
After the successful completion of MPhil, I plan to take up Ph.D. studies in the UK. I also want to ensure that Wheeling Happiness grows in strength and scope and we are able to touch the lives of more and more people and also make disability sports a force to reckon with in India
Paralympics is for athletes with physical impairments.
Special Olympics is for athletes with intellectual impairments.