World Disability Day Special | Shanta Saikia: Look me in the eye, I am not going to be easily dismissed

03 Dec,2019

By Shanta Saikia


“All vitals are stable” – the four words that gave me strength and much needed assurance in the most trying time of my life. The words were uttered by the neurosurgeon at the GTB Hospital in Delhi, where I was rushed after being crushed under a DTC bus on a chilly day on March 12, 2007.


Over the years, the pain has faded, what remains in my memory is the tremendous support I received from all quarters – my family, friends, neighbours, bosses, colleagues, strangers who walked into Gangaram Hospital to donate blood for me, and above all, the untiring efforts of the doctors and nurses.


Back home after spending two months confined to a 3.5 ft x 6.5 ft hospital bed, that’s when the reality hit me – I am a disabled person (my certificate says 80% permanent disability), minus my right leg. A momentary lack of attention by a bus driver cost me my mobility forever.


Looking back today, I can be matter-of-fact about it, but at that time all I knew was to take one day at a time. Undergo painful physical therapy sessions daily. But the most painful part was watching the helplessness in my mother’s eyes as she bore witness to her beloved daughter struggling with very basic things – learning to sit on the bed without support (lying on bed for two months had resulted in back muscle atrophy), learning to use the toilet again, learning to stand on my one remaining leg again. Walking again.


Well, getting on to a wheelchair was a big success at that time; and after several bumps into the furniture and chipping the cement off the corners of my flat, I became a skilful navigator of the wheelchair and I would be out of home practically every weekend. The world outside the secured and comfortable confines of my home posed several challenges – most notably accessibility. Unfortunately, accessibility still remains a problem today in a world full of stairs, ill-constructed ramps and roads that are anything but smooth as Hema Malini’s cheeks!


Using a prosthetic leg made accessibility much easier for me, still India remains inaccessible to a large percentage of its population who are termed – Divyang. That really is the dampner, not the spirit or lack of will or effort on the part of the person with disability. I could graduate to a prosthetic leg, but a large section of the population makes do with improvisation and sheer will power. Cost of a good quality prosthetic device costs as much as a hatchback, if not more. How many can afford it?


One bright spark in all this for me has been digital media. I was working for at the time of my accident. My boss Dr Anurag Batra went out of his way to support me and helped me with my hospital bills. Digital media allowed me to work from home. I continue to work from home even today. The industry really needs to relook at the work pattern – allowing employees to work remotely could be a new reality and allow several talented people a more flexible workplace and be more committed, with the pain of daily commuting taken out of the equation. Sure there are challenges, but nothing that is insurmountable.


I had decided right at the outset that I wouldn’t confine myself at home following my accident. Whenever I got out, I am met with stares, some people hesitatingly ask me, ‘Kya hua tha?’ Some offer to help me. But what annoys me most is the patronising attitude of a lot of people. Still, you learn to accept them as part of life now. Do we have an option? Yet, I go out every chance I get; guess I want to force people to acknowledge that people with disability are not to be a hidden population, because we make you guys uncomfortable, because you don’t know what to make of us. Look me in the eye, I am not going to be easily dismissed. I am currently fighting to save my paternal property in Assam from a neighbour who wants to usurp part of the property. They thought I am a single, disabled woman, so they can get away with it. They ain’t know nothing yet!


Learning to walk again

I believe I’ve waited long enough

Where do I begin?…

Set me free, again

To keep alive, a moment at a time

That’s still inside, a whisper to a riot

The sacrifice, the knowing to survive


– Foo Fighters



Shanta Saikia is an army kid and proud of it. Thanks to her father’s various postings, she got to see the real India – up, close and personal. Her love for travelling has not been curtailed due to her limited mobility. A journalist for 25 years, she started her career with the now-discontinued A&M magazine, and as she says, “it was love at first sight for advertising for her.” Shanta Saikia is working since 2016 as Editor, Adgully, a leading advertising and marketing sector publication.




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