Are these findings sufficiently authentic . . . that I [and research participants] may trust myself in acting on their implications? More to the point, would I feel sufficiently secure about these findings to construct social policy or legislation based on them? – (Guba & Lincoln, 2005, p. 205)
I found this quote in a scientific paper I was reading earlier this week. For about three years now, as an adapted physical activity (APA) professional from India living in the United States, I have faced a constant challenge of ‘missing out on the ground work happening’ in India. While the explosive growth of social media and its acceptance in India has helped me bridge some of the gaps, I must confess: being home each year to ‘immerse’ myself in the field has been an excellent teacher. Having unsuccessfully tried for years to spread the word among my contacts in electronic and print media to write about sports and physical activity (SPA) for persons with disabilities (PwD) in India (because to this day, newspapers and TV are still a major source for news in countries like mine), I constantly heard these responses,
- No one pays for these stories to be reported about Padmini.
- Editors want stories about PwD in India that are inspiring.
- Able bodied sports in India itself is struggling, so it is understandable that para-athletes are neglected. I am not surprised [I will not blame the speaker entirely for saying this to me. But it is very common in India to hear responses like, “Regular sports only doesn’t have funds, how can we expect anything for disabled people’s sports?”].
One of my last attempts brought me across two friends who asked me,
“Why can’t you be the person to write about it?”
Me: “Am I eligible to write? I am not a journalist. I am not trained in the skill!”
To which they replied, “You have studied the Adapted Sports movement for quite sometime now, you have spoken to many stakeholders in the ecosystem, you have so much information and you know the globally accepted terminology to write about the topics. What other eligibility do you need to speak up?” [Quote is not verbatim. It is a gist of the lengthy conversation I shared with both of them].
Before I begin writing, here are a few rules I will stick to while reporting from the field of organised SPA for PwD in India.
- My sources will continue to stay anonymous until they tell me I can publicise their names. At present most of them are trying to survive within a system where the fear of being ‘blacklisted’ for speaking up is rampant. Defamation cases, police complaints, unexplained blacklisting of participants are common occurrences within the field here.
- Every story will have a list of direct questions that stakeholders intend to ask the administrators of their national sport federations. These are the questions they ask me and say, “Madam, first these leaders should answer these questions and then they can question our commitment to sports as people with disabilities!”
- Every story will conclude with a ‘Possible Solutions/Future Directions’. This is primarily to highlight the common attitude of PwD and their supporters in India. In my experience of talking to hundreds of them over the years, I can confidently say they are not all complainers.
Many of them speak intelligently about creating sustainable solutions.
The content of this section is most of the times direct solutions that these citizens speak to me about. Now and then, I try to bring them together using my professional training as an APA professional.
- These stories are ‘silent screams’ of many athletes, coaches, families supporting SPA for PwD in India. If you have concerns about what is being reported through these stories, write to me and educate me about why my findings from the field are not accurate. I and the people who requested me to share their stories want to learn more. We will learn more if we can find an educated way to communicate with one another.
Some technical rules I follow while putting these stories together:
- I take detailed field notes when I am out interviewing people (either on call or in person).
- I continue to ask the people I talk with if I can audio record them so that I can re-listen and report accurately. Many are afraid that I will share the recordings publicly at some point later to prove the story. So they politely express their unwillingness to be recorded. One in ten agrees to be recorded because they may have followed my work for a long time or simply say “We trust you Padmini.”
- I don’t talk to people from just one geographical region when I am trying to understand a dysfunctional situation in the field of organised SPA for PwD in India. I source my information from at least three out of the five regions in India (Five regions I use: North, South, West, East and Central India). Statistically these numbers are insignificant. But as a qualitative researcher, I believe,
Every voice is significant!
- When I make field visits in India to understand and study infrastructure (colloquially called facilities in India), I do not take photographs/videos of PwD at the locations. [Reason: Majority of PwD in India who are studying/living in govt-aided or non-profit institutions are disenfranchised to an extent where they don’t have the voices to say no when someone asks them for a photo/video consent on the spot during tours and audits (especially women). I have repeatedly heard this opinion from PwD in friendly conversations at a later point when they explain their dislike for being ‘documented’ without accountability [Once a person said to me, “Akka (sister) would you like some random person touring your college to take photos of you when you are doing your work and then walk away from there? You wouldn’t even know what they intend to do with your photo later! Then you will become someone’s fund raising poster! I hate it!” calmly returning back to their handicraft work at the vocational training center].
In countries like India, the group of people heading a particular national sporting federation is the ultimate power house for that sport. Over the years, these federations have carefully maintained certain mechanisms that need to be followed for athletes to grow up the chain. Organised SPA administrations serving PwD are not separate from these behaviours.
If these stories I write can someday push for a change in India’s sport governing policy for persons with disabilities, I will consider my work done. At a stage of career that I am in, with the kind of competition that is rampant in the world of sport education today, many well-wishers have advised me to either delegate this work to the established professionals or to wait it out until I find my slot in academia. Regardless of where my career prospects or financial benefits of reporting on this topic stand, persons with disabilities in India continue to be treated with very little respect and equity even today. Neglecting that reality cannot continue. While I have collected these stories and have spoken to hundreds of Indians in the last many years, I see it is important for these stories to be told now more than ever because: Two years after Rio2016 and two years to Tokyo2020, the reality of what India has in place for persons with disabilities is shockingly poor.
And that needs to change!