Interview

Volume 6 Issue 1 - June 15, 2009

“Women with disability face greater discrimination than men,” Pragya Ghildial

Pragya Ghildial
Pragya Ghildial

At 21, Pragya Ghildial was an up and coming yoga instructor and had a studio of her own. But on May 2, 2005, an accident left her paralysed from waist down. Not the kind of person to give up so easily, she got over her initial depression and soon started teaching yoga to people with disability. Dorodi Sharma of D.N.I.S. caught up with her to find out more about her life in her ‘will’ chair.

D.N.I.S.: Can you give us an insight into the time after your accident? How did you cope with it?

Pragya: After the accident I was brought to the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (I.S.I.C.) in Vasant Kunj and was treated here for 3 months. Initially it was a huge physical and emotional loss for me. I was battling depression and trying to come to terms to the fact that I could not feel or use my legs anymore. Along with this I was also learning how to use the wheelchair. When I realised I would never be able to walk again, a lot of negative feelings developed in me. But I had a very supportive family and circle of friends who stood by me. Also I think yoga helped me develop a strong will power and I accepted the wheelchair and decided to move on.

D.N.I.S.: When was the first time you went out after the accident?

Pragya: I went out with a friend to a mall around 4 months after the accident. I was feeling conscious of my wheelchair and the braces that I was still wearing around my body. I felt as if everyone was staring at me. Later we went to eat, and there too I felt depressed and conscious. Then a stranger walked up to me and told me that I was a very courageous girl and that not many would come out so soon after a major accident. Till today, I remember his words although I do not know who he was.

D.N.I.S.: When did you take up yoga again after the accident?

Pragya: Initially after the accident I was apprehensive about my career, as yoga needs intense physical work. But when the director of I.S.I.C. asked me if I would like to teach yoga to disabled people on an experimental basis, I took it up as a challenge. Earlier I used to teach yoga for weight loss but teaching it to disabled people was totally different. I started reading up on spinal injuries and how yoga could help. For example, most spinal injury patients complain of respiratory and digestive problem along with depression. I started by trying to instill a positive energy in them and then gave them simple techniques to help alleviate their discomfort. Soon my classes started to grow and it became a regular feature and I even took up counseling. In fact, now I teach dance therapy on wheelchair.

D.N.I.S.: What were the major challenges that you faced while taking up yoga again?

Pragya: I think the major problem was that I could not demonstrate the techniques. But I do that with the help of presentations. Also I use my fingers to show leg movements. But these are not major problems anymore.

D.N.I.S.: You are some one who has seen both sides, as a non disabled person and as a wheelchair user. Do you think there is a huge misconception in society about people with disabilities?

Pragya: Yes, there is. In fact before my accident even I did not have much information about disabilities. Society has a very negative outlook towards disability. They look at you with pity or with an attitude of charity. I think its high time people started accepting disability as normal and not an aberration. I think people who feel that disabled people are incapable of doing anything are disabled in their thinking.

D.N.I.S.: Has there been any kind of discrimination against you after the accident?

Pragya: I have been lucky in that sense. But yes, it is difficult being a woman and disabled.

D.N.I.S.: Why so?

Pragya: Well, people sometimes feel I am a ‘bechaari’ (helpless) which I am not. I enjoy my life, go to parties and for movies and have a career. But our society feels that marriage is the ultimate goal of a woman’s life and somehow have this notion that a disabled woman cannot get married. More often than not, after an accident induced disability, it is easier for a man to get back to his job and family life. But in case of women, 70 percent of the times, their husbands desert them.

D.N.I.S.: What are your views on the facilities/ accessibility for people with disabilities in India in general and Delhi in particular?

Pragya: I do not think Delhi has a high degree of accessibility. A lot has been said about accessible bus stops and the Metro but what about the roads leading to them? Similarly, for the low floor buses, the drivers are not trained. It’s the same story with malls and other public places. Delhi is yet to become sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities. We did an access audit of the Rajiv Chowk metro station and saw that the lifts meant for disabled people were not accessible as there was a parking lot on one side and some barricades on the other. We called the media and the very next day the parking and the barricades were removed to make it accessible.

D.N.I.S.: At I.S.I.C. you meet people with paraplegia. Do you see yourself as a role model for many?

Pragya: Yes I do. I am proud of my achievements. Today I teach yoga to both disabled people and non disabled people. In fact, I am more successful today. When I see people at I.S.I.C. coming to terms with a disability after an accident and see how attached they have become to me, it gives a sense of fulfillment. The fact that by being an example I can give hope to so many people is overwhelming.

D.N.I.S.: What would you say are your most amazing achievements in the recent past? Things you would have taken for granted before.

Pragya: I have learnt driving and have tried horse riding too. Horse riding was a big challenge because after a spinal injury your balance is affected. I was also shortlisted in table tennis for the Commonwealth Games. I have also learnt dance therapy. I am proud of all my achievements irrelevant of how small they might be. I have a successful career. In fact I charge more for my sessions now than I used to do before my accident.

D.N.I.S.: What are your plans for the future?

Pragya: Well, there are so many things I would love to do. I want to try rafting and paragliding although my mother would get an anxiety attack if she hears of it (laughs). I also want to learn swimming and tennis. But as of now, I am heading to the U.S. for a leadership programme.

D.N.I.S.: Your thoughts on D.N.I.S.?

Pragya: I think it is a good medium to spread awareness about disability. Although I am not sure about the reach of internet among the lower middle class people, I do think even affluent people need to know a lot about disability. In fact, internet is very popular among the youngsters and if they are made aware about disability, the future looks a lot better.

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