Wheels of Change

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The clouds that cover the sunshine; they cannot banish the sun…. and the earth shines out the brighter, when the weary rain is done.’ And this sun did shine its brightest, and how! despite many a dark cloud trying to banish it. In the course of her journey she has earned numerous titles – crusader, messiah, activist, fighter and many more. We are referring to Dr. Sruti Mohapatra, Founder and CEO of ‘Swabhiman State Disability Information and Resource Centre’. She has been fighting for the rights and self-esteem of the differently abled, for the last 30 years.

The story of Sruti Mohapatra’s life is for the archives and a saga of individual courage. She has an endless list of accomplishments to her credit: She has been a topper throughout her career and a gold medallist in graduation and post graduation, a basketball player par excellence; she had played for both the state and national teams, 3 times National Debating Champion and a Literary Champion in Utkal University. She qualified for the Civil Services Examination in 1987. While she was getting readyto commence her career in public service in the Government of India, she suffered a ruthless blow at the cruel hands of destiny. A road accident rendered her a quadriplegic with her body paralysed, neck below and confined her to the wheelchair for life. Wheelchair-bound Sruti Mohapatra was barred from becoming an IAS officer.

To add insult to injury, the society completely rejected her. Her marriage broke up. People, inadvertently said and did everything that shouldn’t have been said or done. Ruefully, Dr. Mohapatra recollects that dark phase of her life when she had to face rejection everywhere, even at the very university where she was once coveted student. Of course, her parents, siblings, close relatives and a few friends were her pillars of strength. Sruti’s father goaded her to look at the possibilities ahead and egged-on by her well-wishers, she went on to complete an M.Phil and Ph.D in Developmental Biology from Utkal University, after overcoming innumerable adversities. The day she received the National Young Scientist Award, her family and her Department broke into celebration,because it had nothing to do with her disability.

Despite being the most meritorious candidate, wherever she applied, Dr. Sruti Mohapatra, failed to get employed anywhere due to her physical status. She realised that her identity had somewhere got lost in the shadow of her wheelchair and evenhough she possessed the same heart, brain and soul, Dr. Sruti- the human being, had ceased to exist. Sruti even contemplated committing suicide during this hopeless phase of her life, but her family, especially her father, who wriggled her out from the clutches of her vulnerable own self. “Focus on what you CAN do and not on what you cannot”, he asserted himself, even as he equipped her with a powerful mantra to follow, for life- ‘I Can!’ Every small task that Sruti carried out successfully, gave the family a reason to celebrate. It was then, that Dr. Sruti Mohapatra started her ‘study circle’ and with the help of some time, money, lots of reading, researching and understanding – Swabhiman came into existence in 2011.

By then, Sruti had realised that people like her in Odisha, required the right information and a voicethat would advocate for their rights with the government for policy reforms. This is the primary objective of Swabhiman!

Dr. Sruti Mohapatra’s phenomenal ability to innovate, has resulted in conceptualising and executing many novel programmes. She initiated a Project called ‘ANJALI’, in the field of Education, with the primary goal of creating a joyful, carefree and inclusive platform for children, with or without any disabilities. It focuses on bridging the gaps by allowing children from all kinds of background, to discover each other at a 5-day camp. Project ANJALI has received several accolades in national and international forums. In view of her unrelenting efforts, she has been showered with numerous awards and felicitations but according to Dr. Sruti Mohapatra the smiles, the hugs and the unconditional love of little children coming her way is the highest award for her and that is what keeps her going. “Does one need a higher award after this?” She exclaims! Dr. Sruti’s simple dictum in life – To be happy, give joy to others. Roll on Dr. Sruti !

By Anjana Tripathy

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