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Miss Deaf World 2019 Vidisha Baliyan credits Paralympian Deepa Malik's Wheeling Happiness Foundation for win

Vidisha Baliyan has become the first Indian to win the Miss Deaf World 2019 crown. Helping this young woman achieve this feat was Paralympian Deepa Malik and her daughter, Devika, co-founders of the Wheeling Happiness Foundation.

Twenty-one-year old Vidisha Baliyan has made history. From Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh this young woman is the first Indian to wear the Miss Deaf World 2019 crown.

The finals, held in Mbombela, South Africa, saw Vidisha take on contestants from 11 countries for this title. A former international tennis player, Vidisha has represented India in the Deaflympics and won a silver medal. Vidisha shared her entire journey through the competition on Instagram.

Winning the title is just the beginning of the dream. There are many people with hearing-impaired conditions who are extremely talented and deserve opportunities. As Robert Frost famously said, 'Miles to go before I sleep'. I was inspired to participate in the pageant to gain confidence and develop my personality. Through this platform, I also want to motivate the deaf community to focus on the talent they have, and not be upset about what they don't have. - Vidisha Baliyan, Miss Deaf World 2019

She also credited Paralympian Deepa Malik. "I'm grateful to Deepa Mallik for mentoring me and for providing access to all resources,"

Vidisha approached Deepa shortly after she won the Miss Deaf India 2019 in February. Deepa, who was crowned Navy Queen 1998, is aware of what goes behind preparing for such a major pageant. It also helped that she knew Vidisha from before. Vidisha and Deepa had trained together under the same instructor earlier.

"We had both taken body conditioning and muscle training at the foundation under the same instructor in 2013-14. She was dealing with a severe back injury and we had motivated her. As a para sportsperson, I understand the challenges disabled people face and she was training for the Deaflympics too", says Deepa.

Vidisha approached Deepa for help with the world pageant earlier this year. Deepa and daughter Devika Malik, who are founders of the Wheeling Happiness Foundation, were initially reluctant.

"Our foundation works with underprivileged people and Vidisha is well off so we hesitated at first. Then we did a rethink because we realised that this was an opportunity to showcase ability beyond disability. Besides, Wheeling Happiness believes in inclusive fashion and we have done many inclusive fashion shows. We even helped someone prepare for a wheelchair beauty contest".

Making it happen

Three months of intense brainstorming and preparation went into the final moment, for which Deepa gives much of the credit to her daughter Devika. "We spent a lot of thought on the talent and national costume rounds because these are the most decisive", says Deepa. In the talent round, Vidisha performed the taandav, which was much appreciated.

"We had just 90 seconds for the talent round and the idea was to convey a meaningful message", says Deepa who consulted with her daughter's friend Anupama Iyer. "We integrated a sign of peace and included sign language in it".

Vidisha's national costume and jewellery, which came to over ₹20 lakh was designed by the renowned Sabyasachi Mukherjee, who had designed Deepa's outfit for the Padma Shri.

Deepa says many people came forward to support the foundation's efforts in making Vidisha ready for the world event, including pageant trainer Rita Gangwani, stylists and photographers.

Deepa also took Vidisha to meet with Amruta Fadnavis, wife of Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Kiren Rijiju, Minister of State of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and Minister of State in the Ministry of Minority Affairs of India ahead of the competition for their blessings.

"One thing this made me realise is the enormous goodwill people in India have for Paralympians. People do value my medals and whoever I reached out to for help, responded in a positive way", says Deepa. She believes this shows the respect people have for Paralympians.

Above all, she is happy that the larger purpose of Wheeling Happiness Foundation has been reaffirmed, and that is "that whenever a disabled girl is given due attention and is empowered, she is capable of standing in the world as an equal".

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