Sunita Sancheti suffered a spine injury when she was 16 and lost all sensation below her waist. In 1987, she lost control over her body from the waist down, thanks to medical negligence. It was impossible for her to even control her bladder and bowels. But don’t be mistaken. Sunita’s anything but disabled!
She had to drop out of college, not due to her illness or disability but due to the lack of facilities at her college and the awareness of her illness among her professors and fellow students.
Sunita is a 46-year-old woman now and her disability has made her realise India’s indifference to physically challenged people who require different needs. The need of an elderly person from a city will be different from that of a young person coming from a different background. Similarly, a disabled person’s need will differ from an able-bodied one.
Sunita, who is a resident of Mumbai, recalls a trip that she took to Agra a few months back with her Russian and English colleagues. Just a few months before their trip, renowned scientist and wheelchair user Stephen Hawking had visited the Taj Mahal, which was made accessible for him. Sunita and her friends decided to take advantage of the newly-turned accessible monument. However, what awaited the group at the Taj Mahal was a beautiful monument standing there, inaccessible for disabled people. All the ramps placed for Hawking had been removed and they were left bewildered about how to tour the world wonder.
Sunita also felt embarrassed as she was travelling with outsiders who couldn’t understand why Indian government has failed to recognise the existence of disabled people and plan the cities keeping their convenience in mind as well.
At 26, Sunita travelled to the UK to learn how to live with her disability, that is, learning when to eat, in what quantities and how to control her bladder and bowel. It was there that she became aware of the fact that even disabled people can move freely and independently if only the leaders and urban planners plan the infrastructure rightly.
“I saw that England had created access for people with all kinds of disabilities including deaf and visually-impaired people,” Sunita added. The trip motivated her to come back to India and lobby for similar infrastructures in India.
According to the 2011 census, India’s disabled population is 2.21 per cent, not too far from 2001 census’s 2.13 per cent. However, the problem with these statistics is that they do not count the people who do not disclose their disabilities due to social stigma.
Sunita has been working for the right of disabled people to help them live with more ease and access. Apart from working with different NGOs like Able Disable All People Together (ADAPT) and Nina Foundation, she has also travelled to 28 states and more than 40 cities across the country to not just spread awareness about disabilities but also make places like monuments and universities more accessible to such people.
Sunita is the recipient of various awards such like the Jigar award from Paraplegic Foundation and the Empower Women and Empower India Excellence Award. She has also won a Silver medal in the first Maharashtra State Paralympic Games in 2015.
But most important, Sunita Sancheti is defeating her disability daily and is living life on her own terms. More powers to you, Sunita!