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Because life is a gift – this IIM graduate is telling stories of the specially-abled

सौरभ राय
15th Jan 2018
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Author and social activist, Disha Chhabra, has documented 15 real-life stories of differently-abled people — their lives, struggles, and victories.

A life-changing experience during her convocation at IIM-Calcutta led Disha Chhabra (34) to become a disability rights activist. Because Life is a Gift, a book written by Disha, chronicles the lives of 15 people with disability who have achieved exceptional feats. Through her book, Disha intends to not just bring hope to millions of specially-abled people across the country, but also educate the society about the benefits of employing differently-abled people, and creating an inclusive community.

Brought up by a single mother

Disha was brought up by a single mother, who was also the working member of the family. Disha’s mother worked hard to support the family and ensured that her daughter could have the free time to fill her life with books. Growing up, Disha started blogging and developed a keen interest in writing short stories and poetry. She was also a focussed child academically. Disha recalls,

"Even as a child, when I saw society give an unfair treatment to my mother, the meaning of my existence lay in bringing happiness in her life. And the only way I could do that was by studying hard and succeeding."
Disha's hard work paid off when she came first in Delhi in the Class XII board exam. She went on to pursue BTech from Delhi College of Engineering and joined the corporate world as a software developer. Seven years down the line, she also did an MBA from IIM-Calcutta. With 12 years of corporate experience, Disha has worked in several companies including Yatra.com and Paytm. She is presently working as a product leader with Amazon India.

Championing for the disabled

Besides having a successful career, what sets Disha apart is her journey as an author and a social activist. "It all started during my IIM-C convocation," she recalls. There were 500 students graduating from the institution, and the convention hall was filled with claps and cheers.

"Then a young boy came on stage. Suddenly, the entire hall stood up to celebrate his joy, salute his determination and respect his journey. It was on that day that I met Suresh, who is among the first 100 percent visually impaired persons to graduate from an IIM."

Disha recalls how she had never taken notice of Suresh before that day, as he led a very normal life on campus. "Until then, I had looked at a differently-abled person with sympathy. But Suresh’s determination made me feel small about my own thought process," Disha remembers.

Starting with Suresh, she interacted with people with disabilities and went on to document their lives. She also started researching more on the challenges faced by the specially-abled, and was shocked by the findings.

"In a county where 2.1 percent of the population is disabled, why is it that almost all major public places are still not accessible? We all are touched by disability in some way or the other. Our parents grow old and find it difficult to walk around, hear properly, see clearly. By ignoring the goal of building an inclusive society, are we not being unfair to our near and dear ones as well?"

Because life is a gift

Her interactions eventually culminated in a book, Because Life is a Gift, where she has documented 15 real life stories of differently-abled people, their lives, struggles, and victories. "These stories are not just about disability. These are about triumph of spirit, will power, and determination of the soul," she tells us.

Take for example, the story of Major DP Singh, a Kargil war veteran who was declared dead by surgeons at the army hospital. He, however, survived with an amputated leg and went on to become India's first blade runner.

In another chapter of the book, Disha has chronicled the journey of Sheela Sharma, whose mother jumped with her on a railway track to commit suicide. Sheela survived but lost both her arms in the incident, and was brought up in an orphanage. Fascinated by colours, she learnt to paint with her foot and legs and is today India’s leading foot painter.

Then there is the story of George Abraham, who brought blind cricket to India. Disha tells us,

"Each story is so powerful that it can be a book in itself. Whenever I went to meet these people, I doubted my ability to show respect. I was always confused between sympathy, empathy, and respect. When I interviewed a person with hearing impairment, I realised how insensitive we all are towards sign-language as a medium of communication."

By making people understand the struggles of differently-abled people through her book, Disha hopes that her readers will strive towards creating an inclusive society.

A person with many hats

Disha is also associated with many NGOs and organisations working in the field of disability. These include Family of Disabled, Score Foundation, and Prateek Special School, among others. She writes for them, and helps them with fundraisers. Disha is also a mentor to a visually challenged boy who is currently pursuing his engineering course. "I work with him through the course of his studies to help him sail through his assignments, converting the handwritten notes of his classmates into digital texts for him to hear out through software," she tells us.

Disha has authored two more books. Her first book My Beloved’s MBA Plans, is a collection of real-life stories of couples where one of the partners ventured into something unusual in their professional life, and challenges they faced together. Her latest book Corporate Avatars, is a corporate satire.

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