Of the Ekalavyas and Arjunas that make India’s Dronacharyas

I woke up this morning to many missed calls and messages. Players, friends from Indian Paralympics and former players expressing absolute disappointment at finding the name of a nominee in a list recommended to the ministry. And for the nth time I spent a good part of my day listening to how depressing it is for the many who have been affected by the politics of India’s Para badminton scene. Trust me it is the hardest thing to do knowing that beyond repeatedly writing about the issue: I am powerless in the system.

It is that time of the year when the Indian Sports Ministry celebrates Indians’ achievements within the sports world. There is a nomination this year for the Dronacharya award that is given to an individual for highest coaching excellence.

Gaurav Khanna

Before you can be angered at how I am not supportive of the growing support for Indian para sports, I want to remind you. I come from the space of:

Disability Rights are Human Rights

Disability Rights must be at the center of Sport Governance practices for disability/para sports

Little corruption and rights violation is not okay to advance the bigger goals.

And Khanna’s name in the list further cements the apathy towards players with disabilities who do not have a democratic system in place for them to pursue competitive sports in India.

Who decides what is the bigger goal for Indian Para badminton? Who is one individual to decide how the entire system works? As absurd as it sounds that one person has had such a power, let me introduce you to another neglected part of India’s disability sports world.

Indian Para badminton.

For years, the space has been neglected by the world badminton federation, India’s NSFs and the government. But since 2014, with a shift in the ruling government’s attitude about how sports can be a positive influence on Indian citizens’ lives, the rush for power grabbing began. As it is normal, individuals within Indian para sport spaces who masquerade as the saviors of the sport are either active government employees or have worked in the government in the past. These are the Indians who are the lobbyists with connections in the Sports Ministry and the Sports Authority of India who can get files moved and funds sanctioned.

The person who has been rescuing Indian para badminton players for years now is a government employee. And the problem with that is how over the years he has strong armed and controlled the group of players that he has managed to maintain. While many people may find my criticism of the existing system as being excessively harsh, I want to tell you:

When you hear the stories of how outspoken players have been shunned out from the system, when you listen and read evidence of how players with disabilities are being talked about as marketable and not-marketable persons, when you hear women speak about how they don’t feel safe about depending on one person for everything and then to be able to connect with that one person at the top, they have to stay connected to many other local self-appointed leaders, you end up just saying to yourself – What the hell is happening here?- it then also reminds you of how the existing system is dismantling years of disability rights advocacy. It screams at you how sports is not powerfully changing people’s lives for good but it is marginalizing the marginalized further more. While some people stand to benefit from Khanna’s smart tactics of making a broken system work for a handful few, it is important to note that if a player with disability was uncomfortable with Khanna’s working style, they slowly got dropped out of the entire ecosystem. It is even more important to note that one person decided who made the list to represent India or not represent India.

Read the list of embedded tweets to know what has been going on for years now and today the person responsible for openly exploiting persons with disabilities and the Indian government’s lack of knowledge about para sports was recommended for the highest sport coaching award of the country.

What can be your take away from this?

Disabled or not disabled, equitable access to sports is every citizen’s right. Sporting spaces must be safe spaces for all citizens. And India is yet to understand that we have no safe spaces for everyone to pursue sports.