If I try to recall my first impression of her, I remember seeing her on a wheelchair in the morning assembly during my school days. She was senior to me by 3 grades and thus that was usually the only time I used to see her in school, after which we would go to our respective classes. She was helped by her father in getting in and out of wheel chair everyday and I could see it wasn’t an easy task for either of them.
Santwana completed schooling, and so did I after few years. Years passed by and I never thought about her in all these years until we connected on facebook. The first thing that caught my attention in her profile was seeing the prefix in her name ‘CA’.
I was glad to see her as a Chartered Accountant and could relate well for myself being one. Chartered Accountancy in India is one of the most toughest examinations, with a passing percentage as slim as 3%. In fact, it is also considered as one of the top 10 toughest examinations in the world. At that time, I did not give it much thought but could understand it would have been much more challenging for Santwana to clear it, given her disability. Apart from being a Chartered Accountant, Santwana described herself as a social entrepreneur, motivational speaker, disability rights activist and a social game changer.
I started seeing numerous posts about Santwana receiving various prestigious awards one by one (listed in the end) and its coverage in various newspapers. She was getting popular for her achievements and intentions in the direction of social welfare. Despite being thousands of miles away from Santwana, I could feel her energy and zeal to do something for the society, to bring a positive change and to improve the lives of specially abled like herself.
And then I could not believe my eyes when I came across the information on facebook about Santwana’s funeral. Santwana’s lungs got infected and she succumbed to pneumonia. I read it several times to be sure. It felt like an exciting journey which just began, with her seeing the fruits of her hard work, determination and perseverance, has suddenly come to an end. I realized how much joy it gave to me to see her reach new heights. It was deeply saddening and shocking and I was surprised to see myself being so impacted for I had not met her for more than 15 years. And still I was thinking about her all day which triggered me to contact Santwana’s page administrator on facebook who gave me more insight into her life that only confirmed what a great soul she was.
Santwana suffered from Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a rare progressive neurological disorder since birth. She did not enjoy a childhood as playful as all of us. She found her solace in academics with an ambition to be able to bring a change some day. She cleared high school examination with distinction in Mathematics, Science and English and wanted to choose Biology as the main stream to become a doctor to be able to serve society. But due to inadequacy of infrastructure in laboratories etc., she had to compromise on her ambition and choose Commerce rather. In this stream too, she went for the most challenging competitive exam with no reservation for disabled students. It is inevitable to attend coaching classes to clear Chartered Accountancy exams in India and she was again faced by challenges to discover that most of these classes were situated on upper floor of the buildings with no elevator facility.
This is just a glimpse of daily life challenges she came across. Despite facing hurdles at every step, her achievements in life overshadow ours in many ways.
Being the SVEEP icon in recent Elections held in Bhopal, she made sure to raise awareness around building ramps and other needed infrastructure at voting booths to ensure that specially disabled like herself are also able to use their voting rights. Santwana was running an NGO called ‘Uday Shiksha Evam Jan Kalyan Samiti’ to help disabled children build a future. She organized various competitions and wanted to work in the direction of setting up vocational training for these children to be able to be financially independent in their lives. She was also planning to build a hostel for the specially abled children as per the scheme of Government of India, a project that she left incomplete, probably for us to complete.
She came up with an idea of organizing a talent hunt program for specially abled whose second season was held in 2019 wherein 450 children participated. There were some great talents that came out in the field of music, acting ,modelling, drawing, chess and others. With an intention to provide a platform to these children to showcase their talent, be seen, heard and be chosen for future opportunities and to boost their confidence, this talent hunt program will again be organized in 2020 again, for its third season. Further, a tree plantation drive is planned for 1-7 July, 2019 in the remembrance of this beautiful soul.
While a lot of us are just busy in our lives, entangled in daily responsibilities, focused on building a better life for ourselves, Santwana’s life is an inspiration for all of us to achieve beyond capabilities, dream beyond reach, give beyond what we have and live beyond death.