"More than welfare programmes, it's creating the right environment for the handicapped that will help them grow as individuals," says Sruti, who became a quadriplegic after an accident in '87. She's the founder member of SHARE (Shared Entertainment and Recreation) a local organisation that stages street plays, orga-nises treks, fashion shows and other activities for the disabled. One of the more successful efforts in which she was involved was 'Samara', a fashion show in Chennai, where 30 physically challenged persons including Sruti shared the ramp with the likes of Aishwarya Rai and Devika Menon. Convenor of the Women's Cell of Disabled People's International (WCDPI), an organisation that spans 152 countries, Sruti and her group have done more for sensitising attitudes towards the disabled in the state than the government or any NGO. What makes her special is the ability to reach out to the less fortunate, something for which she derives the strength from the personal battle she's been waging for over a decade now.
Her life is storybook material and a lesson in personal courage. At 24, Sruti Mohapatra had looks, talent and a great future. The eldest child of doting well-to-do parents, she was a gold-medallist and topper throughout her career. A basketball enthusiast, she had played for both the state and national teams. In '87, she had qualified for the Group A Allied Services and was engaged to be married. On April 14 that year, her life changed. A devastating accident left her a quadriplegic, she lost her job and eventually her fiance. "April was really the cruellest month for me," says Sruti wryly. Today, 12 years later, she says: "Life is good. I don't think I could've done better if things were different." Fighting from the wheelchair, she is once again on her own feet, metaphorically at least, totting up achievements hard to match. Giving back to the country something she was denied a decade ago—an opportunity.
When Sruti had her accident, there was no Equal Opportunities Act to support her, but she learnt to take disappointments in her stride. With her family rallying around her, she won a Fellowship and completed her Ph.D in Zoology. In '93, she won the National Young Scientists Award. Today, with over 100 published works and extensive research on disability to her credit, she is currently working on a post-doctoral thesis on pregnancy among quadriplegic women. She's published several poems and short stories, and is planning an anthology of her work.
More than her personal victories, her triumphs lie in her determination to change the lives of those in despair. The eastern correspondent for Disability International, a Chennai-based journal, she's also on the editorial team of She Can—the quarterly of the Asia Pacific Disabled Women's Network. As a member of the State Coordination Committee for People with Disability and the eastern zone coordinator for the National Council for Promotion of Employment of People with Disability, Sruti helps in the selection process for 10 annual fellowships given to disabled students all over India. A major victory has been persuading corporate houses in Bhubaneshwar to absorb disabled people in various capacities. As coordinator of the Disability Resource Centre in Utkal University, she provides information on education and job opportunities, and also runs a counselling centre for the disabled from her home.
"People care," she insists. "You merely have to try and make them understand." Though she had to swallow the innumerable cruelties society doles out to the disabled, she still believes: "Small changes herald big ones." That's life for people with the strength to make a difference. Sruti's address is Sunflower Nursing Home, Bhubaneshwar-6. Her telephone number is 0674-406725.