Someone said that the human spirit is one of ability, perseverance and courage that no disability can steal away…We are reminded of these powerful words every time we come across heroes with special abilities who got the better of adversities and went ahead to live their dreams, undeterred. We invited a few such individuals to share their stories with specially-abled youngsters and inspire them to change their perception about special abilities. Here are their incredible tales.
1. Ira Singhal
As a child, Ira Singhal knew that she had to outperform others. Her parents made sure she studied way harder than everyone else while keeping a firm grip on her dreams. Ira, the deputy commissioner of the Keshavpuram Zone of the NDMC, suffers from a spine-related disorder – scoliosis (curvature of the spine) which makes her arm movement difficult. The IAS officer spent her early childhood in the communally sensitive Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, where riots and curfews were as common as baraats. “I would miss school for months due to curfew imposed after communal flare-ups. I learnt that it was the DM who passed the orders to shut the town. As an eight year old, I thought it was a cool job! This is what I wanted to do one day!,” shares Ira, the first specially-abled woman to top the civil services exam in the general category, as she shares her story with students at Salaam Baalak Trust.
As the SDM, Alipur, Ira shared how she conducted raids in factories to rescue hundreds of children from bonded and child labour. She has also opened 10 crèches for poor women inside MCD schools. “Forced to go out and eke a living, these mothers used to leave their children at home unattended…they would be either tied up to the bed or put to sleep after administering drugs. It was a dreadful situation,” she says. Her eyes glint with emotions as she shows the pictures of the cheerfully done up crèches. She has a soft corner for kids, and her affection reflects in her voice, as she interacts with children at the Salaam Baalak Trust shelter.
“It’s tragic that parents themselves pity their own child and the world starts pitying them. Bechara, kuch nahin kar sakta, iska kya hoga… that’s what they say about their child. This shatters them, and they end up as failures. I owe it to my parents who always pushed me to perform, and not even once made me feel that I was different and I deserved the world’s sympathy?,” says Ira.
Your circumstances can never stop you from chasing your dreams, she told the children. “All you need is firm faith and an irrepressible will to outdo yourself,” she tells them, as she shares her incredible tale of success with them.
The students partied with Ira, showcasing their singing and dancing talents, and enjoyed goodies sent by G.D. Foods and Fresca Juices. Many walked up to her and promised that they would make the best of their circumstances.
2. Nishtha Dudeja
Nishtha Dudeja at Suniye Trust, Delhi. ( RAAJESSH KASHYAP )
This 24-year-old commerce graduate from Panipat, Haryana won the title of Miss Deaf Asia 2018 at the 18th edition of Miss and Mister Deaf World – Europe – Asia Beauty Pageant 2018 held at Prague. She is the first contestant from India to win the pageant since its inception 18 years ago. Nishtha was born with hearing loss in both the ears. It was a challenge for Nishtha to develop her speech and language, but she never gave up. With the help of hearing aids and speech therapy lessons, she was able to go to a regular school.
An athletic child, she took up Judo and won many medals at the State and National levels. She also played tennis and represented India at the World Deaf Tennis Championship and Deaflympics. Winning the beauty pageant made her a household name. In her interaction with speech and hearing impaired students at Suniye, a support school, she shared, “I never thought of myself as disabled. I didn’t talk much to people who pitied me…those who went out of their way to make me feel ‘normal’. I never accepted sympathy from people…maybe I would have got me some extra help, but that’s not what I wanted. It could have made life easy, but I would have lost self-respect. What is life without struggles?” she said.
Nishtha also recalled how she was shocked to see hundreds of hearing impaired children, who could talk only through sign language, when she went for the National Games for Deaf for the first time in 2013. “I was shocked that kids couldn’t speak. They communicated with the help of sign language. I thanked God that my parents decided to teach me how to speak, no matter what it took.” Nishtha urged parents to learn about the benefits of hearing aids and speech therapies for their hearing-impaired kids. She also encouraged them to send their children to a regular school. “It will give them the confidence to develop their speech and language better,” she said.
3. Gulfam Ahmed
Gulfam Ahmed was attacked by polio when he was just one.
Struck by polio at the tender age of one, 29-year-old Gulfam Ahmad turned his adversity into opportunity with his courage. “Maine sapne dekhna kabhi nahi chhoda. Main chahta hoon ki log mujhe mere kaam se jaane,” he says. Extreme poverty made life even more difficult, as his father struggled to put together two square meals a day. From his early childhood, Gulfam challenged himself to rewrite his fate. Born in Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh, Gulfam took to body building and power-lifting at the age of 18.
He was introduced to the world of sports for the specially-abled at the same time. He won his first National Championship in power lifting category in 2008. Since then he has won 23 medals across various states in India. Gulfam won title of Mr Wheelchair India in 2015. “I was a big fan of Salman Khan. With the help of my trainer, I was able to build a good physique,” he says. Gulfam is a well-known motivational speaker today, who helps transform the lives of other. Sitting alongside specially-abled students, Gulfam shared his journey, and taught students work outs to keep fit. He encouraged and guided Sarla, a specially-abled 16-year-old from Haryana, to go for the Paralympics.
Pranav at National Association for Blind, RK Puram ,New Delhi. ( Manoj Verma/ Hindustan Times )
Born visually impaired, Pranav is employed with a security agency in the Capital. He often travels to enjoy his passion for photography. Pranav conducted the first ever photography session for the students at the National Association for the Blind. Armed with a laptop, headphone and a cap with a webcam attached to it, Lal goes about clicking photographs. This Kuwait-born MBA always had an urge to translate his expressions into visuals. “One day, while surfing, I learned about Voice, a software that helps me convert images into sound,” he shares. Pranav builds a mental image of what he sees in front of him, using the software. It may take him minutes and sometimes hours.
In the computer room at the blind school, students gathered for the first ever photography workshop. It was a liberating moment as students took pictures for the first time in their lives. Pranav explained how the images change into sound using the software which he then listens through the headphones to figure out the subject he is shooting. “The loudness of the sound is associated to brightness, so, higher the sound the brighter the object. The headphones tell you the position as the subject moves from left to right, while the pitch represents the height,” explained Pranav, as he handed the students a pair of headphones and made them experience the technology. As students clicked pictures for the first time in their lives, we could capture priceless smiles.
5. Rachana Chaurasia
Rachna Chaurasia at Viklang Sahara Samiti, Delhi. ( RAAJESSH KASHYAP )
Teaching self defence to the specially abed so that they can protect themselves from physical violence is something that has been largely ignored. It’s not that the specially-abled cannot learn self defence, it’s just that one has to be very patient and give them time.
“The training can be life saving. The specially-abled need to learn self-defence techniques as much as anyone else, as they can find themselves helplessly trapped in dangerous situations, says Rachana Chourasia, a well known figure in the field of Martial Art in India. Rachana, the secretary general of Taekwondo Association of India and Taekwondo Federation of Delhi, went to Viklang Sahara Samiti in Mangolpuri, Delhi to teach specially-abled students self defence techniques. The excited students listened to her attentively as she asserted that being vulnerable to physical attacks of any kind, it becomes crucial for them to protect themselves without relying on anyone else. “You can fight to protect yourself. I will show you how,” she said.
“If your hands are working normally, block the attacker and charge at the vital parts with practised techniques. Target eyeballs or crotch. If your legs function, trip, block and kick. Always remember to shout and get people’s attention whenever you are groped or attacked. People are generally sensitive and they come ahead to help those in distress. Also, grease up your working joints with exercises so that moving or swinging does not hurt your joints and you are able to react fast,” she explained as she demonstrated techniques and made the students practise self-defence positions and try out the techniques on each other. We saw confident faces that were ready to take up any challenge.