Shalini Saksena caught up with three women who have chosen to dream & follow their passion
‘Action to speak rather than words’
She is the first Indian to win any title at Miss Deaf World Pageant. She won Miss Deaf Asia title at the 18th edition of Miss and Mister Deaf World-Europe — Asia Beauty Pageant 2018 that was held at Prague, Czech Republic. Prior to this title, the she won the Miss Deaf India title on February 26, 2018, in Jaipur.
She has also been awarded the National Award for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Award (Divyangjan) by Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu in the ‘role model category for her overall achievement and excellence in the fields of education, sports as well as art and culture. Meet the 23-year-old Nishtha Dudeja, a Delhi girl who is a Commerce graduate from Sri Venketeswara College, Delhi University.
Nishtha was born with severe-profound hearing loss in both ears. But that didn’t deter her to pursue whatever took her fancy. It started with judo at the age seven and won many medals. At the age of 12, she started playing lawn tennis and has been an International Lawn Tennis player, having played many AITA, Asian Tour Tennis and ITF tournaments. She represented India thrice at the international games — Deaflympic-2013 held in Sofia, Bulgaria, World Deaf Tennis Championship-2015 held in Nottingham, UK and Deaflympics-2017 held in Samsun, Turkey.
On the night of finale at Prague, after completion of all rounds, when the judges announced the winner of Miss Deaf Asia 2018 is..... India, and she came forward to be crowned and looked towards her parents, the pride on their faces is something that she can never forget.
“I had won the first title for my country in this prestigious pageant since its inception 18 years back. Before going for the pageant, I was well aware that this was going to be a very tough contest as no Indian had won any title at this pageant in the past. I prepared well. I was always positive. Even on the night of finale, I was not nervous,” Nishtha says and tells you that she never let her handicap come in the way. She got the freedom to do whatever she wanted to do.
There is an interesting story on how the student of MA in Economics from Mithibai College, University of Mumbai decided to enter the pageant. “I was a tennis player for around 10 years. However, in 2016, a physical injury forced me to retire from professional tennis. At that time, I thought of trying something new. I always wanted to learn new things. I read about about Miss Deaf India and decided to participate. The idea to begin with, was to learn many things at the same time,” Nishtha recounts.
Unlike many differently-able people who say that society hampers their progress, Nishtha doesn’t subscribe to this thought.
“It all depends on the parents of differently-abled people. How they raise their children? How they treat them? How they teach them? My parents — father (Ved Prakash Dudeja) is a Chief Engineer in Northern Railways and my mother (Punam Dudeja) is a homemaker — always treated me as a normal child. They always encouraged and supported in all my pursuits. However, it is a fact that a lot is yet to be done for inclusive growth of differently-abled persons as all are not lucky,” Nishtha says.
However, this didn’t mean that many people whom she interacted with in life didn’t think that deaf people are stupid. People who treat the differently-abled persons with pity or they make fun of them are not a desirable situation. Society needs to be sensitive towards the special needs of such persons. What they need are equal opportunities to prove themselves.
“As far as my family is concerned, they never let me feel that I was a differently-abled. However, society in general treats such persons with pity or sympathy. I feel the differently-abled persons deserve equal opportunities to prove themselves rather than pity. I hate the word bechari,” she says and had to work very hard with speech therapy in her childhood.
Nishtha’s parents have played an important role in getting her where she is today and never made her feel that was any different. “They made me a strong person and they taught me to never give up. They supported me like a rock. I consider myself lucky to have born in such a family where every member made it a mission to bring me at par with others,” she says. Even her brother and has been very patient with her since childhood. Her parents taught him to be sensitive towards her.
“He has never complaint for the less attention he got from my parents due to my special needs. My friends too, in school and college have been very encouraging. They would give me their class-notes when I was not able to attend classes due to my tennis coaching or matches. I got some really wonderful friends,” Nishtha says who besides having a positive frame of mind during the competition had to undergo training for the pageant.
She had to undergo training for makeup, ramp walk, posing before camera, dance and many other aspects of beauty pageant. These were not available for her under one roof. She had to get training from different experts.
She tells you that the exposure has changed her as a person. The pageant has made her more confident, yet humble. It has empowered her. Earlier, she used to think that her life was simple and normal, but now after winning the Miss Deaf Asia pageant, many people including parents of differently-abled children tell her that they are drawing inspiration from her life and achievements.
“I’m getting a lot of affection from people wherever I go. Pageant has surely given me a lot of exposure to the world but there is a still a long way to go,” she tells you and her work for the empowerment of persons with disabilities in the fields of education, sports, arts and culture.
I”t is about creating awareness about the need for early detection of hearing loss in new born babies and, use of hearing aids and speech therapy,” Nishtha says and insists that she wants her actions to speak rather than her words.
Investing in her passion
She is a grandmother, a professional teacher with VR Manohar Institute of Diploma in Medical Laboratory Technology, Nagpur for the last 37 years. After an MA in English she pursued her PhD in sericulture. Even though she is teaching full-time, it didn’t deter her passion to open a school — Shanti Vidya Bhawan, back in 1987, in a village, Digdoh, near MIDC, Nagpur. Meet Dr Sushma Pankule.
Her journey began with seven girls. The aim was to provide free education to the girl child especially those families who couldn’t afford to educate their daughter. “My focus was the girl child. This was because back then the only thought parents had to put their child to work as soon as they were ready so that they could add to the family income. I had to go from house to house to convince the parents to sent their girls to the school which provided free education — from uniform to books— everything was provided to them,” Pankule says.
In 1992, she got the school registered with the Maharashtra Government. This meant that her school started getting a grant. Though this sum is not very large, it pays the salaries of the 25 faculty that the school employs which starts from Nursery to Class XII. However, it was Pankule who paid for the land and had the school building constructed in an acre-and-a-half of land. She bought this land by selling the jewellery that her parents had given her.
It was her dream to open a school and hence she doesn’t mind when 50 per cent of her salary goes towards the school. There are companies as well who contribute and provide transportation for the students. Family and friends help too The problem, she tells you that since the school is in a rural area, there are always anti-social elements that have to be dealt with. Then there is electricity bills, the maintenance of the building and other sundry expenses that go into running a school.
Therefore in 2015, when the strength of the students fell from 2,000 to 1,000 Pankule had no option but to make it a co-ed. She attributes this fall to the skewed girl child ratio in the country. However, she doesn’t agree that because the school is co-ed, parents of the girls are reluctant to send their ward to school.
She tells you that today, parents understand the importance of education. “There is more awareness. From the times when we started off, we have come a long way. Back then, more children meant more hands to earn. When we would tell them that if the girl is educated, the coming generation would be educated too. This was a point that was difficult to drive home? Now, parents want to better the future of their children,” Pankule says and tell you that most of the children in her school come from very low income families where the father spends most of the money drinking.
It is not just education that Pankule is involved with. After the girl finishes school, she guides them towards vocational courses that they can pursue so that they can get jobs where they can earn up to Rs 10,000 a month. However, this earning can go up depending on their efficiency.
“The financial condition of some of the students is such that they are forced to look for jobs after Class X. While the salary may not be much, it does give these girls dignity of labour and confidence that they are not just mere maids. If such girls drop out, we insist that they join a distance learning course. There are several scholarships that are available for the girl child. The problem is that most people are not aware of them,” Pankule tells you and says that the challenge today is to find the right career path for these students given the fact that there are so many colleges and courses that are out there.
“Our job is to ensure that they find the right course so that they can start earning as soon as possible. There are so many fake degrees. These students need a job to add to the family income and not get caught in a trap where they end up spending money and a degree that has no job viability,” Pankule explains and tells you that her faculty plays an important role in guiding these students on the right path.
Most of the teachers have been with the school for years since the State pays their salaries. The principal is a PhD as are a couple of more teachers. But, like with all schools, there is always a teacher who is indifferent.
But this doesn’t deter Pankule from doing her job. She has weekly meeting to ensure that everything is running smoothly. Sometimes, after her full-time job, she goes to the school to oversee things.
She plans to superannuates in 2020 and make the school eco-friendly and teach the students the importance of Nature since the school is in a agri-based region. “I want the students to know how to grow vegetables, how a seed grows and the role that soil plays in our lives,” Pankule says.
This is not all. Pankule is also India’s Vice President for the The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. It is an international non-governmental organisation.
“Since our establishment in 1915, we have brought together women from around the world who are united in working for peace by non-violent means and promoting political, economic and social justice for all. Our approach is always non-violent, and we use existing international legal and political frameworks to achieve fundamental change in the way states conceptualise and address issues of gender, militarism, peace and security,” Pankule says.
‘The lesson starts at home’
People who have pets will tell you the problems they face from neighbours and RWAs — from designated areas where pets can poop to not allowing them inside the elevators are some common issues that pet owners face. Then there is the usual— your dog barks and creates a nuisance — comment.
Founder of Pet Parents Association, Iti Tyagi tells you that her work involves creating awareness among people and sensitising them about the animals. “When I was staying in Gurugram, there were many issues related to the animals. I stood by them and fought for their rights. Animals can’t speak. The same has now spilt over to where I stay now — West End Greens. The area has a green belt — Rangpuri — New Delhi,” Tyagi says.
Her fight began when she got her first dog eight years back. “To begin with, I was very afraid of pets. But this changed when I came in contact with Romeo, a Lab. It changed her path. More than my fight for pets, it was my work with stray animals. We see kids tie cracks on their tail, kids thrown colour on them during Holi and some would even beat them up. I ensured that they were taken care and fed. One should take care of everything around them,” Tyagi tells you and hates the word nuisance that is associated with strays.
“This is a perception in our minds. It is not necessary that the person is creating a nuisance. If I believe that he is creating a nuisance, we think that he is. The same holds true for strays. Do we think of what happens to these animals when it is cold outside? Do we think of them when the temperature is 45 degrees outside? Do we think that we should give them water? We are the ones who have invades their space, not the other way round. We have created homes in their habitat. These animals are roaming in their territory. How do we know why they are where they are? Do we think why a cow is where it is? May be it is looking for food. When we see two dogs fighting, we think that they are creating nuisance. May be they are just playing,” Tyagi says and is open about the fact that This was her mindset as well. But it all changed when she had a pet of her own.
She tells you that the problem is that people are insensitive to the environment and things around them. According to her, the first step beings at home. “I have a toddler. I teach him to be senator not just the pets that we have but the animals outside as well. Just the other day, we were sitting at a cafe when my son just picked up a piece of bread and went to the door and gave it the the dog sitting outside. My job, as a parent is to make sure that my son keeps a safe distance yet be kind and respect the animal’s boundary . Then next step is education in schools. We don’t have animal sensitivity chapters. Who is reading books on animals,” Tyagi tells you.
She gives you and example of Mowgli. “How did Rudyard Kipling come up with the story of The Jungle Book? Mowgli is a story of a Bondi boy, a tribe from Madhya Pradesh. When Kipling wrote this story he must have been inspired by a little boy,” Tyagi says and tells you that she does face challenges due to her work with animals. People come up to her and tell her that the pigeons have been creating problems by pooping all over the balcony.
“What does one even say to something like this,” Tyagi asks who is also the founder of Craft Village in the Capital and has been awarded the Nari Shakti Puraskar given by the President for her work to promote craft.
“I am a product designer and take inspiration from the environment. The village is a community living for the craftsmen and pets are allowed when we hold workshops. The award is for the work that I do for the craft club. But animal welfare is a passion for me,” Tyagi tells you and that is how she started working with the Bondi tribe and promote their work.
“I promote a lot of their work. The craftsmen come and teach their art through workshops that we hold. There is need to bring their work to the fore. But synchronisation is needed. Art is all about a piece of work that a person can relate to. This art form is close to my heart because it is all about my culture. Bond art is about trees, animals, the community and Nature,” Tyagi says and tells you that she will continue to work to promote craft but her dream is to set up an animal shelter once she retires.