7 unsung heroes who battled disability to achieve their dreamsKrithiha Rajam
Living with paralysis, blindness, hearing impairment, etc., these men and women are waging war against adversities with remarkable courage, inspiring millions.
India’s differently abled population stands at more than 20 million. From battling the social stigmas that arise due to a lack of awareness to functioning with little or no support from the government, every day is a challenge for them.
Yet, there are those who fight against all odds, refusing to give up. Here’s a look at a few such people.
1. Mikhail Merchant: deaf and mute model
Mikhail Merchant was born with hearing and speech impairment.Adding to that, he was a rotund child, which resulted in constant bullying in school. Hence, he grew up to be an introvert with low self-esteem. Things took a turn for the worse when he lost his mother at 16. Unable to deal with her death, he dropped out of school and went into clinical depression for a few years.
However, over time, Mikhail developed a desire to make his late mother, who had once been a model, proud. After a year of rigorous training, he lost half his weight, going from 145 kg to 70 kg. To create greater awareness about deafness, he has finished two photo shoots wearing his hearing aid.
2. Nidhi Goyal: India’s first blind stand-up comedian
Nidhi grew up wanting to be a portrait artist, but lost her eyesight after being diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease at the age of 15. The eye disease hurt her dreams but couldn’t touch her spirit. As she startedaccepting her disability, she got a different perspective on life,which came in handy when she decided to take up stand-up comedy a few years later.
Now in her 30s, Nidhi is an activist working for gender justice and the rights of the disabled. Two years ago, she also took up stand-up comedy and started building dialogue around the need for romantic companionship among disabled people as well as their sexual needs.
3. Divij Shah: one-handed cycling champion
Divij Shah lost his right hand in an accident when he was four. Determined not to let that mishap define his life, he has experienced way more than the average person with two hands.
In his teens, Divij played for West Bengal’s U-16 cricket team. After his MBA, he worked as a financial analyst in Bengaluru. Constantly looking for challenges, he also took up cycling. This was despite the lack of customised cycles in India for one-handed people like him. Yet, after meticulous practice, he baggedsilver at the AsianPara-cycling Championships that took place a few months ago. At present, Divij has his eyes set on becoming a champion in the 2020 Paralympics.
4. Suvarna Raj: international sportsperson in a wheelchair
Suvarna was affected by polio when she was two. With 90 percent disability in her legs, she has been a wheelchair user for the last few years. As it is, sports is not an easy field for women in India to enter, and a disability only makes it harder. However, that did not stop Suvarna from learning table tennis and representing India internationally.
The multi-faceted Suvarna is not only an international para table tennis playerbut also an activist fighting for the rights of people with disability. Along with running an association for disabled people and volunteering with Viklang Sahara Samiti, she is also an accessibility counsellor.With a double master’s — MCom and MSW —, she works part-time with a bank and a computer centre.
5. Anand Arnold: Mr India in a wheelchair
Anand began bodybuilding when he was 13 and won a trophy the same year. But things changed when he was diagnosed with spinal cancer at 15. After undergoing an operation that cured him, he was paralysed from the neck down for the next three years.
With support from his family, he started training from a wheelchair and was soon winning again. Confined to hiswheelchair now, the three Mr India titles, 12 Mr Punjab titles, and more than 20 other titles he has won speak for his unwillingness to let his disability hold him down.
6. PrateekPrasanna: cricketer
Prateek Prasanna from Mangalore, Karnataka, was born deaf. But his family became awareof his disability only when he was seven months old. Though he started wearing an analog hearing machine, he did not speak until he was five. However, gettingcochlear implants helped him come out of his shell, andhe is now an active, fun-loving child who loves English, science, and playing the drums.
However, it is his passion, cricket, thathas been the real game changer, turning him into an extrovert. The school cricket team’s star player, the 14-year-old looks forward to the day he can play for India.
7. Akshansh Gupta: the PhD with cerebral palsy
Akshansh Gupta was born with cerebral palsy and he is 95 percent disabled. His lower limbs are dysfunctional and he can neither feed himself nor pull his wheelchair. His slurred speech may make everyday communication difficult, but that hasn’t stopped him from pursuing his dreams, and he now has a PhD from JNU.