Disability is a state of mind, as these great personalities have pointed out. Life becomes dysfunctional only when we are paralysed by our lack of will to perform, and disabled when we lose the determination to break the shackles preventing us from achieving what we can.
Here are several differently-abled persons, who have proved that even when you don’t have hands, legs or eyes, you can succeed in life. All you need is willpower and determination to achieve heights that even able-bodied people would find difficult to reach.
Making a mark in their respective fields, these sports persons, film and television personalities, administrators and soldiers fought the good fight and emerged victorious.
Ever wondered how would a doctor, who helps others recover from their illness, feel about himself as he suffers a disability? Dr Suresh H Advani was denied a “house job” at Mumbai's Grant Hospital, in the late 60s, as he was “handicapped”!. But today he is a prominent oncologist and the first to perform Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation in India. He contracted polio at the age of eight and has been wheelchair-bound since. Despite facing many difficulties in pursuing his dreams due to his disability, Advani did not give up. His contributions to the field of oncology have been recognised with many awards, including the Padma Shri in 2002 and the Padma Bhushan in 2012. He is also the first oncologist in India to have successfully done a bone-marrow transplant.
Journalist by profession and activist at heart, Javed Abidi has stood the test of time and emerged as a leader fighting for the rights of the differently-abled. He was diagnosed with Spina Bifida, a developmental congenital disorder caused by the incomplete closing of the embryonic neural tube, that caused permanent nerve damage in the spine. Further injuries forced him into a wheelchair when he was barely 15 years old. Even this jolt in his life did not stop him from going abroad to finish his education and pursue his dreams of becoming a journalist. He has been actively engaged with disability rights for years; he is the director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) in India, and also the founder of the Disability Rights Group.
Quoting an expert from a newspaper interview: “People with disabilities comprise 20 per cent of the world’s poorest. Yet the leadership and the mechanisms that shape policies that affect their lives are controlled by people who have absolutely no idea what it means to be a person with disability — to not even have a wheelchair, to not even have a hearing aid, to live in abject poverty. My biggest priority as of now is to remind the world, again and again, of this fact.”
Running on the same lines is the story of H Ramakrishnan, a journalist with over 40 years of experience. Ramakrishnan was affected by polio in both legs when he was two-and-a-half-years old. From being denied admission to a regular school to getting rejected for a job due to his disability, Ramakrishnan has had to struggle at each step in his life. In spite of this, he worked as a journalist for 40 years and has held the position of CEO of SS Music television channel. He is also a musician and has showcased his talent on various platforms. He runs a charitable trust called Krupa to help the specially-abled. Recalling the days gone by, he says, “Even with almost 85 per cent disability since the age of two, when I was struck by polio, I used to travel by bus. Then, I bought a side car scooter. However, later I shifted to a hand-brake driven autorickshaw, a special edition from Bajaj auto ltd.” Being denied admission in school to facing stiff opposition in his journalistic career, he says life has been a challenge everyday for him.
Painting the world in beautiful colours
Creativity knew no bounds for 57-year-old Sadhna Dhand, who suffered from a brittle bone disease and lost her hearing at the age of 12. Although she stands at just 3.3 feet, her disabilities were not strong enough to stop her from pursuing her passion for painting. She went on to win a national award. Apart from this, she received many awards at the state and national level for painting and photography. She now teaches art at her house. Not only this, she is an active social worker and donates to various organisations working with children with mental and physical disability.
Dance of Glory
Dancer Subhreet Kaur Ghumman has proved that sheer determination can take a person to the top. If you walk past her, you may not notice anything amiss, as the one-legged dancing wonder is anything but disabled. Showering her with praise for her unmatched will, a report said, “This strong woman has gone through hell, seeing ants eating up her paralysed leg and doctors erroneously chopping off a vital vein in her left thigh when she was 23, but she doesn’t complain.
The 27-year-old shot to fame after she got selected in a dance reality show, where actor-judge Shahid Kapoor, overwhelmed by her performance, saluted her spirit and said, “You are an inspiration for all dancers like us, because you are a very big person and we are rather small as human beings in front of you.”
Music from the Heart
Music maestro of yesteryears, Ravindra Jain, contributed immensely to the cinema industry despite being visually-impaired. Jain started singing at a very young age and took his passion to a new high when he joined the film industry. He became one of the most notable music directors of the 1970s. Quoting an expert in a newspaper interview: “He was so dedicated to his work that the day his father died, he was in a recording session, but he did not leave the room until the recording was completed.” Apart from composing various superhit songs (jab deep jale aana, gori tera gaon bada pyaara, sajna hai mujhe sajna ke liye), he had also launched several private albums. Udiyamaan Santhan has introduced Ravindra Jain Sangeet Samman in 2010. Ravindra Jain Academy of Music and Fine Arts Charitable Trust is being run in Bhopal and Mumbai.
In the field of music, Akbar Khan is another person who has earned his spot. Born visually-impaired in a poor family in Rajasthan, Khan had a tough childhood. But with immense support from his elder brother, who was also visually impaired from birth, Khan managed to continue his studies with excellent results. Having great interest in music, Khan was invited to various platforms as a performer and judge. His biggest achievements include getting a National Award for The Welfare of Persons with Disabilities in 1989. Living in an era where no reservations existed and even after securing first division in secondary and higher secondary examinations, he was turned down at college not by the management but by faculty, who refused to admit him into the class. Breaking all shackles, he proved his mettle by being the first visually-challenged person in India to clear the SSC exam, besides being employed with Punjab National Bank and currently working as a senior manager. Unfortunately, he says society and the way it treats differently-abled people has not changed much. “Even today, all that is promised in words is not translated into action. Still people have to make several attempts before they can avail benefits lined up for them," he says.
Sporting, as they are
Despite losing her chance to play for the country, this philanthropist helps victims of severe disability recognise their strengths. Preethi Srinivasan, the captain of the under-19 Tamil Nadu women’s cricket team in the nineties, was left paralysed below the neck after a swimming accident. Today, she continues to inspire people through her organisation, Soulfree. She started providing support to women with severe disabilities and assisted them in fulfilling their potential by providing a basic quality of life. “A disability is not just a mere robbing of the vital functions of body parts, although that is painful enough, but for most, it also brings with it the loss of a sense of dignity and self-worth, and a feeling of becoming secluded from the world,” says Preethi.
Holla, who exudes sportsmanship not only in her profession but also in life, has launched the Mathru Foundation to help differently-abled children from rural India. This international para-athlete from Bangalore had been paralysed completely at the tender age of one after a high fever. A regular electric shock treatment for two years got the strength of her upper body back, but below the waist, her body remained weak. Holla decided to live life in the best possible way and chose sports to excel in. She started participating in various games at college, and today she has taken part in various international events including the Para-Olympics. She won gold in 200m, shot put, discus and javelin throw at the 1989 World Masters’ Games in Denmark. She has over 300 medals in her kitty, and is also the proud recipient of the Arjuna Award and Padma Shri. In an excerpt from one of her interviews, she said, “I don’t think I am a disabled person. Of course, I am disabled physically. But that is just one part of my body. My self-confidence is not paralysed.”
Girish Sharma is a living example of how one can become a champion despite adverse circumstances. When he was two years old he lost a leg in a train accident. But, this setback in life did not stop him from becoming a badminton champion. Amazingly, he plays the game effortlessly with just the one leg. He has won the gold medal in the Asian Paralympics Cup which, was held in India. Girish had never let his disability become a hurdle in achieving his dreams. He says, “When I was a child, I used to play cricket, football, and badminton with normal children. My disability was not in my mind.”
Fighting the odds, Shekar Naik, who converted a disability into an opportunity, has an inspiring tale to tell. With his strong will power and dedication, he became a T20 Blind Cricket World Champion and has 32 centuries to his name. In 2010, he had been chosen as the captain for Indian Cricket team for Blind. In the year 2012, team Pakistan came down to India for the first ever T20 World cup for the Blind. “Totally, nine countries participated. It was the most memorable moment when the passionate Indian team emerged winners,” recalls Shekar, who believes that physical disability is no hindrance to achieving your goals.
Rajinder Singh Rahelu contracted polio when he was eight months old. Since then, he has not been able to walk. But he did not let his disability come between him and his dreams. Rahelu decided to discontinue his studies after completing high school. In 1996, a little encouragement from his power-lifter friend motivated Rahelu to pursue a career in this sport. In an excerpt from an interview, he revealed, "My friend Surinder Singh Rana is a power lifter. One day, without letting me realise it, he made me lift 70 kg. And then he said that if I could lift 70 kg on the first day, then with a little hard work I would be capable of qualifying for the Punjab games". Rahelu began by lifting weights of 75 kg but rigorous training made him strong enough to lift a weight of 115 kg within six months. He continued to practise, and went on to create history after winning a silver medal in power-lifting at the Commonwealth Games 2014.
Leaders of Tomorrow
Kartik Sawhney, a visually impaired youth, scored 96 per cent in CBSE Class 12 exams and became the first visually impaired student to score as much. His joy knew no bounds. However, little did he know that it wouldn't be enough and he would have to prove his mettle again and again. Sawhney was not allowed to sit for the IIT entrance examination for three consecutive years just because he was “blind”. However, his hard work paid off and he finally got a fully funded scholarship to pursue a five-year engineering programme at Stanford University. He plans to come back to India and improve the living conditions for the visually impaired. “If you talk about empowerment, it’s not really about the facilities; it’s more about the mind set of people,” he says. “I’m doing the same task that you’re doing, it’s just that I’m doing it differently,” he explains.
A cancer survivor who battled polio, K V Rabiya sets an apt example as to how youth can steer their determination and mind in the right direction. Born physically disabled, Rabiya’s legs further weakened because of polio. However, being confined to a wheelchair did not in any way confine her dreams or aspirations. She successfully completed her studies and laid a strong foundation for others to do the same. She played an important role in the Kerala State Literacy Campaign for which she was awarded with the National Youth Award by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. “The media celebrated me as a literacy mission crusader, but they always turned a blind eye towards the inspirational role of Islam in ‘the making of Rabiya’. This was never discussed and now I need to do something to convey ‘the right message’,” says Rabiya, who wants people to understand the impact of Islam and its teaching on her life.
These inspiring people had been, at one point of time, marred by different disabilities. However two things common to all of them is their attitude towards their disability and the determination to overcome it.