(Sruthy Susan Ullas, TNN )
BANGALORE: “This should not have been called Malala Day, but Ashwini Day. You are an inspiration to the whole world.” Ashwini Angadi smiles as she recalls the words by 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai at the United Nations Plaza in New York.
Ashwini had just briefly narrated the story of her life before the UN Youth Assembly and left the dais when the feisty Pakistani teenager, who stood up to the Taliban in her fight for education, walked up to her and spoke. The day was July 12, commemorated by the UN as Malala Day. And Ashwini had been invited to receive the Youth Courage Award for Education.
“My speech was just for two-and-a-half minutes. I had not even prepared for it. I just told the story of my life. But people were emotional by the end of it. I found even Malala emotional when she came to me and spoke. Her mom hugged and kissed me. Malala took snaps with me and left. Our interaction was short but will be remembered for a lifetime,” Ashwini recalls.
This 24-year-old too had many demons to fight -100 per cent visual disability, social stigma and other hurdles – before she completed her education. She attended a special school for primary and secondary education and later went on to pursue her BA in History, economics and Music from Maharanis. The UN award recognized her “active and committed advocacy for education among girls with disability”.
Since arriving from the UN event on Monday evening, Ashwini has been hopping from TV studios to press meets, reliving the momentous day in New York.
Speaking to TOI, Ashwini recalled her momentous day in NY, “I had lunch with UN Secretary-General Ban ki Moon and former British PM Gordon Brown. I was feeling too conscious. But Brown reassured me saying he has many friends with disability. He explained to me how the room was like, how the dishes were spread, what shape my plate was, where the curries were placed.” Ashwini recalled telling him that she was from a village in India and didn’t know how to use fork and spoon. “He said: ‘So what? You can eat with your fingers’. He was so sensitive. I do not know about Indian politicians, I have only heard them make promises,” she said.
The government, Ashwini says, must understand their capabilities, not limitations. “There is no point making us sit like show pieces in some office giving us jobs we cannot do,” she says.
Ashwini works as a national facilitator for Young Voices, a campaign by young people with disabilities initiated by an NGO Leonard Cheshire Disability. The volunteers address issues of differently-abled people to policy makers.
From the bylanes of Seshadripuram, Ashwini had to fight several odds. “Students used to be uncomfortable in my presence. They did not include me in their groups while having lunch.
I was always in a corner. The teachers were not aware of my presence. When I was awarded the best student award, I had a chance to speak at the annual day function. I told them: I also belong to the human society. I eat like you. I drink like you. I dream as you do. And I think like you do. After this, students in the entire college became my friends,” she said.
So how did she choose this vocation? “I was to attend a conference in Switzerland on women with disabilities and had to make a speech. I went to various NGOs and heard stories. I then decided I’ll devote my time for girls with disabilities,” Ashwini said.
“Girls with disabilities are different from boys. They are more hesitant, sensitive and less confident. If boys want something, they will go for it. Girls would rather live without it,” she said. But Ashwini was different, mother Vedavathi vouches. She always wanted to be independent. Her father Prakash, started as an auto driver, then a taxi driver, later started a travel agency and now owns a small eatery. “I was not financially secure so could not send my children to good private schools. When Ashwini joined Maharanis, we were not aware of her capabilities,” said Prakash.
“Every time, a college rejected me, I’d feel insulted. After meeting Malala, I realised I should not. Here is a girl who has been shot twice and is fighting for not just hers, but others’ education as well,” she said.
Inspiration to all
My story is my inspiration. My challenges inspire me. I always analyse myself, what I have done and what more I can do. I will try to recollect the moments when I have done something for others. This happiness keeps me going — Ashwini Angadi
We have not eaten properly for three days. We have been eating and drinking only happiness — Prakash Angadi, father
There are thousands of Malalas who each day stand up for the right for girls to go to school. You are one of those young leaders —- Gordon Brown, former British PM and UN Special Envoy for Global Education, in his letter to Ashwini
On July 12, the United Nations honored Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was targeted by Talivban for speaking out for girls education. It was her 16th birthday when she addressed UN. Along with her, the UN also honored some others who are standing up for the cause of girls education. Aswhini was an honorary awardee.