‘Smruti’… when I hear this word, it comes to my mind about something which retains a sweet memory for a long duration in my heart and mind as well.
This can be the name of a girl also.
An extraordinary lady, named as ‘Smruti’ became an inspiration for me.
I feel myself really fortunate to get an opportunity to have a personal time with her in her Kolkata residence, but my pen is still incompetent in articulating her emotion and feelings. The only thing what I can do is to try my best.
The story starts around 29 years back, in the year of 1987.
It was an early summer morning, time might be 6am in the clock and her car was moving towards Puri, starting from Cuttack. The car was full of joy means it was the time of celebration, why not celebration, as everything as per the expectation had been graced to her family. Bhajans of Lord Jaganatha and Maa Bata Mangala were in medium volume of the music system. Everyone, starting from Aai, Maa, Mausi, Mai and cousins were planning how to celebrate this trip and after that how they will start for the marriage of the youngest daughter Smruti, who was the topper & Gold Medalist in MSc. She was already in the cloud nine and had started seeing dreams sitting in the right corner of the car but didn’t know why she was little scared. Car was moving in the normal pace and the driver was also accompanying them in their planning. Suddenly, she saw a very bright light from a little distance ahead had fallen on her eyes, coming nearer and then suddenly became dark!!! The car had lost its control, was moving towards the left and fell down from 13 ft height. What happened? A bus coming from the front had hitted this car.
Smruti was in unconscious state of mind, but was able to see and speak. The driver ran away from the place. Maa, mausi and mai were badly damaged physically, cousins had already lost their sense.
Smruti: I feel like everyone’s leg had tied my neck tightly.
Maa: Don’t move from your place, as it seems like your spinal chord is broken.
After that Smruti does not know what happened with her.
All the happiness turned into a very tragedy moment within a minute, from which it was very difficult to come out for Smruti, who had qualified in the Civil Services Examination in 1987 in Group A (Allied Service).
Who is there to help them from this disaster?
After laying for sometimes like this, a police van with ambulance came there to rescue them.
It was the guilty bus driver who had informed about this incident in the police station after surrendering himself.
Rescue process started and they all got admitted in the Cuttack Medical College.
Smruti was lying on the floor, fingers were totally collapsed and was breaking in the pain. She was feeling sever pain in the neck, had become numb, was feeling to fight against the pain but it seemed like the body was like completely tied up with some unseen force, from which she can never make herself free.
Not a single nurse or compounder was there to clean the blood of her relatives.
Team of doctors came, analyzed that she had to undergo surgery of her spinal chord immediately or else there is least possibility of her life.
The nurse had to cut down her clothes with scissor as the body was so hard that it was difficult to remove the clothes, the only option left was to cut down it.
Another nurse came and took the agreement signature from her father where it was mentioned that the surgery process will continue for more than 12 hrs and there is not any guaranteed success of this surgery.
Father, being a professor in the same medical institute, serving many heart patients had become completely helpless and numb for his daughter. He was seeing silently how his daughter was fighting with life miserably,but could not help himself in this situation leaving his beloved daughter in the hands of experts in the field of Neuroscience.
Mother, who was a professor in medicine department was still not able to get up from the bed to see what had happened to her daughter.
It seemed like everyone had become helpless, leaving Smruti to fight her own battle.
Sometimes, we need to fight out battle on our own to realize our true potential.
The outcome of 12 hours long surgery process was something entirely different than the actual purpose of this.
When she opened her eyes, she was made bald and saw that two heavy threads passing through 2 holes made in her head had to support 2 heavy bricks, in order to make the spinal chord aligned. How painful is this…? Now she was able to open her mouth and was able to scream but there was no one to help her out. The fingers were cramped, body was completely paralyzed from neck to feet. The body language of the doctors was depicting that they had done their duty and nothing was in their hand. Though they had treated it wrongly, but they didn’t have any regression in their face.
After struggling for three months, Smruti had to get discharged from the hospital and joined in mental rehab center in Mumbai, to come out from such trauma.
On the very first day, Smruti was lying in the bed in her room, with lots of hope about the future life, as the joining date in the training is coming nearer. Instead of physical trauma, she had the energy of 100 lions to start her professional career.
Dr Biswas entered inside the room with a smiling face.
Dr Biswas: Good Morning, Smruti. How are you feeling now?
Smruti: Great!!! how soon I will be able to walk?
Dr Biswas: Never
It a was shocking moment for Smruti.
Two drops of tears came out from her eyes without her knowlegde.
Dr Biswas suggested her to cry as much as she can, till the moment she does not accept this truth. She cried for the complete day.
Next day morning, Dr Biswas came and told Smruti to ask her questions.
She had lots of questions..
Smruti: Can I keep the hope in living the life
Dr Biswas: Yes, of course. Why not? You have the mental ability to win the biggest battle of the life.
Smruti: What can I expect from the life, in this miserable state?
Dr Biswas: No expectation from the life.
Smruti: Without any expectation, how can I live?
Dr Biswas: Don’t expect anything from the life, but try to win each minute of life. Expectation will take you to false hope, but winning each moment of life will give you enough confidence to achieve your dream.
Smruti: Why shall I live this life, in which I cannot do anything, as I have lost the basic body organ. My fiancee has left me after I became a physically disabled. There is no way left for me to see a chance of living.
Dr Biswas: You can do anything, if you feel you can do. You have to get the potential to live for yourself and for many for whom you will be really an inspiration during that time. Dont think about what you loose, think only about what you get. You got your life back without any harm to your intelligence and loss of memory. That is your best strength. Go ahead with this strength.
It was a great inspiration for Smruti and she started accepting the destiny written by God.
She had to accept her fate.
She tried to do all her activities on her own.
As her fingers were cramped, she was not able to hold spoon on her fingers and nurse had to fed her.
She tried to eat herself by tying a spoon on her hand with a rope.
Then she threw away the rope and started taking on her own hand, even though hardly one or two grains were going inside her mouth. But that was her initial trial.
She had to complete the course spanning over for six months.
Just the day before her birthday, on 18-Sep, night Maa got a call from home which had carried a shocking news for the entire family.
Father’s two kidneys were failed and one kidney needs to be transplanted for his survival.
Family financial condition was not enough good to support both the patients, so Smruti had to leave the rehab center before completing the course.
She went back to Cuttack, father got cured.
Now the question comes, she had to request to Civil Service Admin to postpone the joining date for few months. Instead of accepting her request, the admin had sent her a rejection letter mentioning that due to physical disability, she is not suitable to take the job now.
A Civil Service job needs mental power and intelligence not the physical fitness.
If that is the case, then why so many seats are reserved for physically disabled people?
After getting rejected by Civil Service Admin, the question arises, what she has to do now?
Father suggested to start career in teaching profession, so for that she applied in Utkal University to pursue research. All the professors for whom oneday she was becoming the best student, started rejecting her application, mentioning that how can a wheelchair ridden patient pursue research. It was one professor who had really recognized her talent, accepted her to start her research under her.
After completing of Ph.D in Biology, Dr. Smruti Mohapatra started applying all the opportunities coming for lectureship posts, but everyone she was getting rejected, mentioning the same reason. Rejected for all the jobs. How sadfull is this..? Having enough intelligence and talent, a person gets rejected for the job which needs these qualities because of her physical disability.
How can a person gets encouraged to live her life in which there is no means left to fuel her to live.
All the doors were closed then.
Where to put to step to get a hope in living life.
She had lost her hope.
Smruti went to father and told him that she had lost the battle of life and wanted to commit suicide now.
Father: No, still there is one way. You can take private tuition.
Smruti: Yes. I will do.
Smruti started taking private tuition for class 5th, 6th even for 3rd.
People started seeing her in a very dinted manner, but students performed well.
What is next?
She started a study circle, then there was no limit towards her success.
Her life reminds us about the motto ‘if you have will power, then there is no force present in this world which can stop you to achieve your dream, even if you are a physically disable’
Majestically seated on her wheel chair she has climbed high mountains of challenges with great serenity. While many of us having no physical disability whatsoever have demonstrated our disinclination to take up any worthwhile challenge in life, she continues radiating the glow of a flame that symbolizes the indomitably of her mind. Born on 29/09/1963, Dr Smruti Mohapatra had a brilliant academic career. She holds a PhD degree in Developmental Biology and was the topper & Gold Medalist in MSc. She was the recipient of the Best Student Award 1978 of Utkal University and was the National Debating Champion in 1980, 1981 and 1982. As an excellent player in Basketball she was a Member in the State Basketball Team from 1978 to 1983. She was the Literary Champion in Utkal University in 1984. She qualified in the Civil Services Examination in 1987 in Group A (Allied Service). While getting ready to commence her career in public service in the Government of India, she met with a terrible car accident as a result of which she was severely injured and the lower part of her body was paralysed. Smruti, however, was bold enough to push behind the terrible trauma the road accident caused.
Since 1989 till 1996 she taught civil service aspirants in training programmes sponsored by the Government of India and Government of Orissa. Thereafter till 2007, as the Director of Orissa IAS Study Circle, a career counseling and tutorial centre for students, she successfully trained more than 300 students who now occupy various positions in government, banks, research institutes, universities and other services (Indian Civil services, Indian Forest services, Indian Economics Services, Orissa Civil Services etc.).
She is the Chief Executive of SWABHIMAN, State Disability Information and Resources Centre, Bhubaneswar since its inception in 2001.As the Chief Executive she has overall responsibility for short and long term planning and follow-up, evaluation and quality assurance of the Organisation’s ongoing activities. SWABHIMAN has an Advocacy and Legislation Cell; a Research and Documentation Unit; an Information Dissemination Centre; a Training and Capacity Building Body; a Networking and Federation Forming Node and a Publishing House.
Her experience in Disability sector for 20 years as a volunteer and as a full time Activist and her relentless efforts in the area of advocacy has resulted in (i) Appointment of Disability Commissioner, Orissa; (ii) 3% Reservation Notification By Dept. of Health in Government & Government Aided Medical & Para Medical Institutions; and (iii) 3% Reservation Notification By Dept. of Panchayati Raj in all Poverty Alleviation Schemes and Indira Awas Yojna.
Her exceptional ability for innovation has resulted in conceptualizing and conducting many innovative programes. She initiated a Project called ANJALI in the field of Education where the main objective is ‘TO RESTORE FUNFILLED CHILDHOOD AND TO CREATE BRIDGES FOR AN INCLUSIVE SOCIETY.’ Anjali emphasizes on (i) Bag less schooling in pre and primary school; (ii) Outdoor Classes; (iii) Interactive rather than black-board teaching and (iv) new mediums of learning. ANJALI aims at the holistic development of artistic skills and using this as a medium of learning in elementary schools. ANJALI has successfully taught history through theatre, local culture through dances, literature through puppetry, importance of inclusion through music and science through outdoor trips. Another thrust area is to ‘bridge gaps’- especially between the rural and urban children, disabled and the non-disabled children, poor and rich children, etc and thus creates an inclusive world. Sharing stories of challenges faced and successes achieved by special children as also other children in challenging situations helps blossom relationships where differences become pillars for inclusion.
Another worthy initiative of hers has been the creation of ORISSA STATE DISABILITY NETWORK (OSDN). OSDN is a network of organizations and individuals in Orissa which promotes local advocacy groups and builds leadership in the disability sector; facilitates local advocacy groups to join hands with district level groups to eventually form a State wide Network that will act as a pressure group to influence meaningful policies at various levels – village, block, district state and national, regarding persons with disabilities; empowers disabled people and organizations and to sensitize other concerned sectors through systematic information dissemination on disability related issues like legislations, relevant policies, research findings and current developments; closely monitors and lobbies with the governments, corporate and other allied sectors to advocate the adoption and implementation of appropriate policies/legislations and builds a common cross-disability platform for sharing of concerns by disabled people from all the corners of the state and to build a joint strategy for a cohesive disability movement in Orissa.
Yet another creation of her has been a concept “Hand-In-Hand” which is first of its kind workshop to form a network of women in eastern India. The ideology is based on an attempt to bring together the physically challenged women and the women of mainstream for a face-to-face interaction and building up a network based on trust and mutual cooperation.
SANDHAN is a Network of students for the cause of disability awareness. This is her creation too. She realised that Swabhiman cannot have the financial resources to respond to the enormous needs of all disabled people across the state. She therefore went ahead and built something equally valuable through people power by creating a YOUNG THINK TANK and a STRONG ADVOCACY GROUP in the SANDHAN. The network is expected to sensitise the young generation to overcome societal biases that have been responsible in creating division among people. It is a Group for support of Research; it is an Advocacy Body; it is a pool of Volunteers.
She had been spearheading research and surveys in many areas which include (i)An Access Audit Exercise, supported by Action Aid to assess accessibility of Orissa.(ii) A Study on Domestic Violence Against Disabled Women and Girl Child In Orissa, India. This was the first study of its kind in India. (iii)Mental Health Study 2003 that revealed a declining care and support services for the mentally challenged persons.(iv)Urban Slum Survey 2002 – Conducted by Swabhiman with a focus on children with disability who had access to education, had aids and appliances and adults who were in jobs.
She is the Editor of BLUE FILE, the first and only quarterly compilation of newspaper articles on disability in India. (English & Oriya); she also edits the GIANT LEAPS FORWARD, quarterly English Newsletter of Swabhiman
Associated in various Committees and Forums, she has been liberally contributing to the enrichment of our society. Notable associations have been as (i) Executive Committee Member in OPEPA (Orissa Primary Education Program); (ii) Member of Governing and Executive Body in Orissa Literacy Mission (iii) Executive Member in Red Cross Orissa: (iv) Member of the Ethical Review Committee (To review all research work on human beings for medical purposes); (v) Convener of Orissa State Disability Network; (vi) Chief Coordinator of ANJALI;(vii) Co-opted Member in Regional Spinal Cord Injury Centre, Cuttack (viii)Core Committee Member in Orissa Alliance on Child Rights; (ix) Executive Member in Social Equity Audit Team, India till 2007 and (x)Member of Task Force on Employment, Govt. of Orissa. She is also a Member of Orissa Zoological Society.
Her activities have been widely appreciated. Many organisations have honoured her. In National Symposium in Developmental Biology 1992, she was honoured with the National Young Scientist Award. Orissa Journalists Association recognised her as the Woman of the Year 1995; Orissa Branch of National Women’s Organisations recognised her as the Outstanding Person in 1997. She received the Red Cross Award, the Highest State Award for Disabled Achievers in 2001. CNN –IBN honoured her with Real Heroes Award in 2010.
An avid lover of Nature, she loves to travel and loves writing. Books written by her include (1) Echoes – Published by Writer’s Workshop, Kolkata. (2) Disability Etiquette – Published by Swabhiman; (3) Concession and Facilities For The Disabled ;(4) Laws For The Disabled. Besides she has more than 100 short stories, poems and articles of general interest.
With such achievements she has been a role model for thousands. Really, I salute her.