Disability Heroes - Deaf political candidate Sudeep Shukla is a sign of the changing times
Win or lose, Sudeep Shukla has made history.
By this time next week, Sudeep, who is the first deaf candidate to contest Assembly elections in India, will know whether he has been elected from Satna constituency in Madhya Pradesh. His stepping into the political arena is in itself a powerful statement. Sudeep has shown the world that disabled people have a voice, and they are seeking ways to make themselves heard.
What's more, Sudeep is being heard. So, what if he speaks in sign language and does not have the finances or clout of the political heavyweights. His act of quitting a well-paid corporate job in Bengaluru to plunge into politics has a ring of sincerity that appeals to young voters like Aman Kumar Mishra, a student.
"I am a big supporter of Sudeep and I am especially happy that a disabled person is fighting the elections. He has a tough fight because he is up against people from big parties like Congress and BJP, but it is good to see someone educated standing for elections".
Sudeep says he was moved by a desire to help people from the deaf community.
I was very sad after the reports of many deaf girls who were molested and raped in Madhya Pradesh. As the leader of many deaf groups in this state, I am concerned by the poverty and unemployment among deaf youth. Many friends of mine with disabilities have sought solutions from leaders of political parties to their problems, but no one was helpful. This led me to start thinking about how to deal with the situation. - Sudeep Shukla, Deaf political candidate
Sudeep has funded his election campaign through personal savings and public donations. The overwhelming response to his presence, says mentor and guide Gyanendra Purohit is a sign that deaf people can be role models. What's more, the world is ready to see them as such.
"It's a sign that our society is learning inclusion. People are seeking to interact with him and learn more about the community. Also, deaf people are coming out of their zones to show the world they are role models and not charity cases. This is helping to change society's perceptions, make them aware of deaf leadership".
His entry into the political arena is being watched closely by deaf leaders across India. Pradeep More, General Secretary, State Level Association of the Deaf in Maharashtra believes this is a sign of things to come. "This is great news, something that is happening for the first time in Indian history a proud moment for the Indian Deaf Community that a deaf person is standing for the Assembly election. This will inspire deaf people to participate in the politics of our country".
Sentiments echoed by Rupmani Chhetri, one of Sudeep's strongest supporters on social media. "I am proud of him and I am rooting for him to win!"
Whatever be the outcome, the win lies in the responses Sudeep gets every time he goes to campaign. Unlike his rivals, he has no fancy cars or other trappings typical of the campaign trail. Accompanied by a sign language interpreter, usually his sister, he cuts a simple yet convincing figure as he urges people to give him a chance. Everyone jostles up for a selfie, or to shake hands. Most of them are the youth, hungry for a change and in him, they see someone who speaks to them.
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