To defy challenges and fight adversity is nothing new for Malika Handa. When she was just one, a reaction to medication left her with a hearing and speech loss. Twenty five years later, she is a 7-time winner of the 'National Chess Championship of the Deaf’, and has won several other national and international medals, achievements that saw her invited to the Rashtrapati Bhawan in the capital and felicitation by President Ram Nath Kovind.
But back in her home state of Punjab, the 26-year-old has been fighting apathy and an outdated governing system that refuses to acknowledge the achievements of the young champion.
"In 2017, I met Rana Sodhi, the sports minister at the time. I had medals at the World and Asian levels, and he said he would help me and give me what was my right. I waited for three years, but later they simply said they don’t have a policy for the deaf," Malika Handa told The Quint, as her mother helps translate her hurt and disappointment.
The situation has been no different under the current administration. Three years, one would think, is enough time for officials handling sports in Punjab to take cognisance of the blind spots that Malika had helped draw their attention to, instead, the chess star continues to be forced to fight the same battles.
"I went and met our Sports Minister Pargat Singh 4-5 times and he gave me assurances that they knew about my case and they would do everything possible to give me a job and cash award. When we spoke, he said in one week he would invite me along with other sportspersons and give me what was rightfully mine. But when I met him on 31 December, he backtracked from all his promises," says Malika, adding that she has been given the same reason as the one given three years ago, that the government does not have any policy for the provision of jobs to the hearing and speech impaired sportspersons.
"They keep making excuses. Sometimes they say they don’t have a policy for deaf people. But then, are we expected to make the policies? It has been five years that Malika has been meeting ministers and giving her files. If Malika is the first girl from India to win six medals on the international stage, is that her fault? Is it her fault that she is the first girl to achieve the feat? Malika has paved the path for other girls," says Malika's mother Renu Handa, who has stood by her daughter in her fight for the rightful government job her accomplishments deserve.