Para Stars: India’s Self-Illuminating Athletes

By Avani Nagar, AISTS INDIA Cohort, January 2024

When someone says javelin, we think of Neeraj Chopra. When someone mentions table tennis, we naturally think of Manika Batra. When we think of badminton, our mind goes back to PV Sindhu’s silver medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics. While all of them are tremendous athletes in their fields, there are athletes who play the same sport, play against the best of the best in international competitions and have won multiple medals representing India but have been in the shadows for the longest time. They are our Para athletes.

While the definition of para athletes often includes the words ‘disability’ or ‘impairment’, I would like to believe that these sportsmen and women are ‘differently abled’. Whether it is the javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia, a 2012 Padma Shri award winner, who ‘single handedly’ has won 3 Olympic medals – 2 Golds and 1 Silver or the table tennis queen Bhavina Patel who ‘wheeled’ her way to win a silver medal at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and a gold at the Commonwealth Para Games 2022, they needed to be appreciated and celebrated. Some of our new kids on the bloc include Avani Lekhara, the first Indian woman to win an individual gold medal and first woman multi-medalist in air rifle shooting, Sumit Antil, the current world record holder in javelin throw with a Tokyo Paralympics Gold medal and the latest superwoman to join this group is the teenage sensation Sheetal Devi, a para archer who fired arrows with her feet to become first Indian woman athlete to claim two gold medals in a single edition of the Asian Para Games.

While the list of these athletes and their achievements is never ending, until recently they have been ignored or sidelined. Neither the media nor the government was taking any interest in these athletes even though they have been representing India and winning medals since the 1972 Summer Paralympics in Heidelberg. For comparison, the medal tallies in the recent edition of multi sport events were as follows:

EventOlympicsParalympicsAsian GamesAsian Para Games
Total Medal tally719107111
Gold medal152829

The 111 medals in the Asian Para Games was the largest haul for India in any major international multi-sport event. And yet these athletes are not household names.

While the athletes are doing their part in elevating India in the global sporting arena, it is important for us as a nation to support them and play our part as well. At the end of the day it is an Indian athlete on the podium becoming the pride of the nation. While they sing ‘Jana Gana Mana’ with a medal around their neck as the tricolor goes up, they take us one step closer to becoming the sporting nation we aspire to be.

As we build up to the Paris Paralympics starting in August 2024, we will try and showcase the different sports that Paralympics encompasses and an insight into the Indian contingent that is set to make waves in France. 

Experience the world of sport in the Olympic Capital

All PGCP participants will have the option to visit Lausanne, the Olympic Capital. Participants attend several full-day workshops throughout the programme to experience sport. These sessions are delivered by the sport organisations and federations themselves and provide a unique hands-on experience