“I am blessed to lead two lives, one of a normal person and the other of a disabled, in one lifetime itself,” says a courageous 29-year-old Dr Rajalakshmi S J, a dentist who won the Miss Wheelchair 2014 contest held in Mumbai last year. Had it not been for her disability, she would not have known the challenges faced by a disabled person, she says.
A car accident on the way to Chennai in 2007 damaged her spinal cord and she was left a paraplegic (both her lower limbs are paralysed) for life. “After having topped the BDS Examination (she is a gold medalist), the professors wanted me to present some papers at the National Conference and I was on my way to that event when I met with the accident,” recalls this Bangalorean.
It is another matter that she has not let the impairment affect her in any adverse way. For the first six months after the accident, she was barely able to sit on her own. She was so disgusted with the idea of using a wheelchair that she rejected it for that period. “I later realized that if I keep saying no to the wheelchair, I would have to be stuck at one place, something which I could not have afforded. Today the wheelchair is my best friend,” says Rajalakshmi.
The accident shattered her but as she says, “I would not have been as successful and determined today had it not been for the accident”. Her family supported her but she did not get much help from the people around. All they would say is ‘Ayyo, you met with an accident’, and do nothing much to support her thereafter. “That irritated me a lot. Disabled people don’t need people’s sympathy or empathy, they just need your support. If you cant give them that support, don’t discourage them at least,” says Rajalakshmi who went on to become the Karnataka topper with 73% marks in her MD examination too.
Even that was not easy. Despite a Constitution of India provision of 3% reservation for disabled people in educational institutions, no one implements it. She fought a court battle in 2010 to pursue her Masters degree in the educational institute. She wanted to join a government college as a dental health officer but she was even denied that opportunity and that is when she started her own dental clinic two years ago.
Being a doctor
It was from a very early age that Rajalakshmi wanted to become a doctor. Having seen both her doctor parents run a clinic in the same building as their home, Rajalakshmi modeled herself on them. “The people there used to call them devaru (God in Kannada) as they saved lives. Her dad passed away when she was in Std 10.
Always interested in becoming a model, she took a break from her studies in between to pursue fashion designing. So when the opportunity came to participate in the beauty contest, she did not think twice. Right from gymming to haircare and dieting, Rajalakshmi groomed herself for the contest while sitting in the wheelchair.
The Miss Wheelchair was a very exciting experience for this doctor. From 250 participants, it boiled down to a handful and she went on to win the title.
It was perhaps her response to one question that left the audience and judges spellbound. They asked her, whose life would you want to re-live, given an opportunity. “My own life,” said Rajalakshmi. “I would have corrected my mistakes that I did as a normal person and done more to improve the situation of the disabled in the country,” says the multi-faceted personality. This time, she has been vested with the responsibility of organizing the Miss Wheelchair contest, which will most likely be held in Bengaluru in December.
She is aware that there is no foolproof cure for her and she has to live with paralysed limbs for the rest of her life. “What exists is inadequate to treat my condition and the stem cell research to get a cure for this is underway. If you ask me, I would tell you there is no treatment yet,” says Rajalakshmi.
After many physiotherapy sessions following the accident, Rajalakshmi is finally independent today. She drives her own car, has a strong will-power and travels a lot despite being on a wheelchair. This young doctor has travelled to most parts of the country and even foreign countries. But she finds India the most beautiful. Truly, home is where the heart is.