Change does not roll in with the wind of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle. The battle of life is fought uphill, to win without wounds is perhaps to win without honor. Imperfections in a person can sometimes reflect the remarkable journey to be taken and that they are wired to achieve greater than the ordinary.
Meet Sruti Mohapatra, a 36-year-old social activist, who runs a study circle for students preparing for competitive exams. In 1987, Sruti qualified the civil services examinations in Allied Services (Group A) when she met an unfortunate accident that caused severe trauma and paralysis in her lower body.
This accident changed her life but today, she is tirelessly working for the physically challenged, giving them the opportunities she never had, all from a wheelchair. “Build your house from the bricks that others throw on you,” she says.
An excellent student
A social activist from the city of Bhubaneswar, Sruti owned an excellent academic record as a student. A PhD degree holder in developmental biology and gold medalist in MSc, she received the best student award in 1978 from Utkala University and was a national debate champion from 1981 to 1983. She was also the Literacy Champion.
Her passion for education inspired her to appear for the UPSC examination in 1987, where she proved her worth cracking the exam and scoring into an A group.
When life took a tragic turn
Sruti had everything. She had cracked the UPSC exam, was engaged to the love of her life and had a bright future ahead. But life had other plans for her. A few days after her interview, when she was returning home with her family from a temple, a speeding bus hit their car.
Sruti’s spinal cord was injured and her lower body was paralysed. She became paraplegic and wheelchair bound for life. Her life changed overnight. “Even after my accident, my ex-fiancé and I were going strong and had decided to tie the knot later. But he got married to someone else and it was a big shock for me,” she recalls.
When her father wrote to the UPSC and other government bodies to do some adjustments, she was offered a position with reduced rank and salary. When she raised a question, the panel closed the job on her.
“April was really the cruelest month for me,” says Sruti. Today, 12 years later, she says, “Life is good. I don’t think I could’ve done better if things were different.”
Overcoming hardships like a warrior
There was no Equal Opportunities Act when Sruti met with the tragic accident. But this didn’t stop her from learning and pursuing further qualification. She hustled to win a fellowship and completed her PhD in Zoology. In 1993, she won the young scientist award and today, she has over hundred publications.
Her academic brilliance was motivated by many hardships that she faced in her life. “I took it upon me to break all such mindsets, and ensure that everybody accepts everybody else, by their talents and abilities, not by their disabilities. My driving force is to reach out the last person with disability in the remotest corner of Odisha and tell them that there is nothing called the impossible,” she says to a website.
From 1987 to 1996, she coached students for various competitive examinations and civil service aspirants funded by Government of Orissa and Government of India. Till 2007, she had successfully trained more than 300 students who secured positions in government sectors of research, education, banking etc.
In 2001, she founded Swabhiman, a Bhubaneswar-based non-profit organization that works to empower differently-abled people in Odisha. She is also a disability coordinator in Utkala University. She is also the eastern coordinator for a Chennai based journal called Disability International and also an editorial board member of She Can, Asia Pacific Disabled Women’s Network publication.
Sruti has proved that there is no excuse if you really want to do something. Abilities and disabilities in just a state of mind. If you have the zeal and determination to achieve something, you need to face the challenges and work hard to conquer them.
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