‘Work hard & you will achieve what you want’ - My Take by disability rights activist Maitreya Shah
In My Take this week, we have 21 year old Maitreya Shah who is visually impaired. Maitreya, who is pursuing his final year law studies is a well-known disability rights activist from Gujarat.
I was just like any other normal kid, living my life to the fullest. When I was eleven years old, I was playing cricket when the ball hit my eye. I became fully blind and that changed my life. I vividly remember those days when I was depressed and used to lock myself inside the room. My parents were equally affected and this went on for a few years.
My parents couldn't bear to stand what happened to me. Those were difficult times for us. But we stood together as a family and my mother was the strongest amongst all of us. I used to lock myself up inside the room and cry for hours. What made things even worse was society's attitude towards us. Our close family members and relatives stopped inviting us for social gatherings because I had a disability.
We had to literally break all family ties. By then, our lives had overturned. But we stood together and fought all along. Soon enough, my parents accepted my disability and they started to empower me. My mother helped me view life in a better way and that helped me change my attitude towards everything around me positively. In fact, my parents worked step by step. Though the journey was difficult, it was indeed rewarding.
The path ahead
My parents ensured that I never attended a special school, and I completed my class 12 from a mainstream school only. That was the most wonderful decision that my parents have taken.
I was the only blind kid at school. There were many challenges I faced due to that, but I had the determination to overcome them all with the help and support of my family. I believe that all these challenges helped shape me as an individual who is ready to take over the world. I wouldn't want all this any other way.
After completing class 12, I joined the Gujarat National Law University. In fact, I was the first blind student at my law school. Hence, I had to start from scratch. I had to gather all the resources to make sure that everything was available at my fingertip. It was not an easy task.
Foray into disability rights activism
We brought together students from across 12 law schools and universities in India. Our motive was to create larger disability policies inside campuses for inclusive education, admissions, accessibility, curriculum etc. I decided to spearhead this project because I do not want any other person with a disability to go through what I have gone. By bringing together all the policies, I hope that things are going to get better.
I work closely with NGOs and other organisations to speak up for people with disabilities. My journey towards working for disability rights activism started after completing class 10.
I was all set to write my class 10 board exams when the board denied me a scribe and I was not allowed to write my exams. This was in the year 2013 when disability laws were strong enough. Authorities were apathetic and denied education to me. I remember one of the officers telling my parents that they should be sending me to learn music instead of supporting me to pursue my studies. All this deeply hurt me and had a profound impact. I decided not to give up.
The next few months I worked hard. At the same time, I felt that I must work towards speaking up for people from the disabled community who are often sidelined, just like me. I got to write my exams and after that, I started searching answers to many questions. I decided to pursue law so that I can speak up for people from the community and work towards fulfilling their rights.
I had the privilege of a very supportive family that stood by me through thick and thin. They were educated and knew what was right for me. I believe the best way to achieve something is to work relentlessly for it. It might get tiring and depressing. But never give up. Once you achieve what you want, it is very satisfactory.