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Sudeep Shukla, India's first deaf MLA candidate looks forward to making history

October 17, 2018

Many people across India were upset and outraged over the reports of sexual assault against disabled girls. Sudeep Shukla is among the few who has decided to act.

Shukla has quit a well-paying job as a software engineer with Infosys and moved cities to contest the elections from Madhya Pradesh (MP) this year. If he wins, he will become India's first deaf MLA.

Shukla is standing from the Satna assembly constituency as an independent candidate.

I was very sad when I saw that there were many deaf girls who were molested and raped in MP. I am the leader of many deaf groups in the state and I see that there is a lot of poverty and the younger generation are facing unemployment issues. I asked my differently-abled friends to meet the leaders of all political parties for a solution. They met with them but found no solution and I was wondering how to deal with the situation. - Sudeep Shukla, Deaf political candidate

Shukla put this question to Gyanendra Purohit, a well-known social worker who heads the NGO Anand Service Society. Purohit's response was that he fight for change from within.

"Sudeep knew my late brother, who was deaf, very well. I was aware that he had good leadership qualities and when he expressed his concerns for the disabled community, I said 'why don't you become a politician?'. The Constitution does not bar anyone from contesting the elections. And there are many countries like Canada and Nepal with deaf leaders."

Voice for disabled people

Apart from education and employment, Shukla wants to focus on safety of people with disabilities. His programs are inclusive, and not just focused on issues relating to people who are deaf.

"I want to focus on safety for not only deaf people, but also boys and girls with mental disabilities", he says. "Our idea is to put CCTV cameras in all children's hostels and to share the user ID and password with parents' so they can see their children on mobile phones."

Shukla says that his suggestion of putting such cameras has been implemented by the Aam Aadmi Party government in children's hostels in Delhi.

Fighting elections in India as an independent candidate is not easy. You need big bucks to counter the might of well-established political parties. Shukla and Purohit are confident they can overcome this challenge. Shukla plans to use his personal savings to partly fund the campaign.

He is also counting on his family's support. "My voice are my sisters, Shraddha, who has a diploma in sign language, and Komal, a well-known bhajan artist. They will help in my political campaign." Shukla's grandfather, a former Congress leader, wields major influence in Satna, which may strengthen his prospects.

"We will work like AAP and raise funds through events,", says Purohit. "We also plan to raise money from people and local media houses have promised to cover our rallies for free." He has also opened a bank account for the public to donate funds.

Purohit, who is advising Shukla, has some punchy campaign slogans planned. "Our slogan is - "You have given those who can speak and hear a chance. Now is the chance to vote for someone who will act," says Purohit. "We have 1,000 volunteers with different kinds of disabilities who will campaign for us. Wait for the day Sudeep files his papers. We will make a splash then."

What also goes in Sudeep's favour is his region's history of making rather progressive electoral choices. The Vindhya region, where Satna is located, elected India's first blind Member of Parliament, Yamuna Prasad Shastri. It also gave the country the first eunuch MLA and mayor.

A legacy Shukla is counting on as he looks forward to making history as India's first deaf MLA.

"Making history gives me a good feeling. Before me Uganda's Alex Nidzee has made history as the world's first deaf MP. I am going to win."

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