I am asked to describe how I felt when I first visited Shikha Rani’s small village in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh in one word, I would probably not have an answer.
The feeling cannot be limited to one word. I am overwhelmed by emotions including those of inspiration, respect and pride!
When Special Olympics Bharat graciously arranged my meeting with Shikha, the figure-skater from India who is going to participate in Special Olympics World Winter Games, I was getting prepared to meet a unique individual and a champion. However, during the meeting, I realized she was much more than a champion! The innumerable barriers that she faced in the process of becoming a champion make her stand out from the rest.
Meeting Shikha reinforces your belief in the incredible accomplishments that determination, hard work and self-belief make possible.
Before arriving at her place, I was a little apprehensive about travelling down to the nondescript village in the Una district in the lap of Himalayas as the journey involved a long railway trip as well as a tough road trip in a bumpy, hilly, potholed terrain with a strong possibility of a bad weather.
“What if it is snowing out there,” I kept thinking before I actually reached there.
My meeting with Shikha turned out to be something the word ‘memorable’ can’t precisely describe. It was one of those rare encounters that change the way we think as it transformed my very perception of the word ‘challenge.’ I was worried about the small uncertainties surrounding my visit to her village and here I was meeting someone who lived in the same village and rose to achieve such glorious heights!
I was captivated by the feeling of wholesome respect for the ever-smiling Shikha and her humble family. Can you imagine the kind of barriers she must have faced in the way to become a success story? Perhaps not because they were so diverse and so many!
Poverty was one such barrier. Shikha’s family of six faced was solely dependent on her father’s miniscule salary as a small-time worker in a factory. Shikha being born having multiple physical and intellectual disabilities was another challenge. She has no fingers, no toes, has some facial deformities and suffers from mild intellectual challenges. Will she even be alive for a few years was the question on the mind of her parents, leave aside hoping for her education and employment!
There was no special school in the nearby villages. Then there was social stigma attached with disabilities that often makes parents of children with disability suffer in various ways. In parts of our rural societies sexual discrimination is still far from over and this forms another barrier for girls like Shikha. Remote location of her village and the geographical challenges associated with the Himalayan terrain create even more barriers if not the backwardness of the region she hails from.
And the list doesn’t end here as in her day to day life Shikha must be experience scores of other difficulties and challenges.
This is why I was flooded with a feeling of admiration and respect when I first met Shikha and her family. We can’t praise Shikha and her parents enough for valiantly making a way out of the difficult physical, financial, geographical, mental, developmental and societal barriers they all faced collectively.
At the age of 7, Shikha was admitted to Prem Ashram (abode of love), a special residential school in Una, where she spent 15 years of her life.
The school, with help from Special Olympics Bharat and her coach Ravi Kumar, provided a direction to her life. They all deserve wholesome praise for this.
However, the real hero is Shikha who didn’t let her physical and intellectual limitations to curtail her aspirations. Not only has she excelled in Table Tennis, Bocce, Athletics, Roller Skating and Figure Skating, she has also pursued hobbies like dance and knitting.
She has impressed people with her dance performances during important events. She has no fingers but she can work on a computer, write in a beautiful handwriting, put a thread in a needle, hold balls in sports such as Bocce, and help her mother in domestic chores.
You cannot express your feelings of meeting with such an extra-ordinary individual in a word or two as they will only be able to describe one or two dimensions of her persona.