Virali, tell us about your journey, the share of challenges how you overcome them that shaped you so strong now a disability rights activist and a motivational speaker.
My journey starts in 2006. The biggest challenge I faced was not being accepted by other people. I accepted myself, but others didn’t. I was called a burden and other derogatory names. I tried committing suicide because of that, but my mom stepped in and helped me realise the importance of self-love. Early on in life I realised that I had to stand up for myself, and do things that made me happy, because other people’s opinions didn’t matter. I realised that no one else would stand up for me. That’s why in 2017 I started my campaign called #MyTrainToo for accessible Indian railways after being molested by the porters in 2008, 2011, and 2013 due to inaccessibility. That’s how my journey started as a motivational speaker and disability rights activist. I realised the importance of changing people’s mentalities towards disabilities because that’s when we’d see physical changes in our infrastructure.
Describe what does #SheTakesTheLead means to you?
In a male-dominated society, a woman taking lead used to be so shocking. It’s still a challenge, but women everywhere are now taking the lead and doing what they want to do, standing side by side to their male counterparts. The hashtag is empowering and holds so much strength and power. Which is what’s needed in this day and age to motivate and inspire the younger and older generations. Feminism was never about male-bashing, it was all about being treated equally in every sense, and by having women taking the lead in their respective professions and lives, we’re coming a step closer to equality.
One advice which you would like to give to your younger self
Don’t worry about what people say and what they do. Mind your own business and do what makes you happy, forget about societal norms, and just focus on achieving that one dream and passion that you have, which will fulfil that sense of satisfaction and happiness.
2 years back, you said in one of your interviews, “There is a lot of tokenism when it comes to marginalized communities, including women, disability, and even disabled women” , did you see any mindset changes since then.
Many people with disabilities and women have come out and proved themselves that they’re capable, for example Deepa Malik, Muniba Mazari, Malvika Iyer – these women have achieved superb heights and they are trying to promote self-acceptance and the strength that they have. There are still some communities that have this mindset, they still don’t think that women or women with disabilities can achieve any heights, and it’s saddening. Fortunately, the mindset is changing, slowly but surely, thanks to the current and new generations.
Message to specially-abled Women who are fighting every day to trying to conquer not only her inner self but trying to change people’s mindset system around her for a better today tomorrow
Keep fighting and never look back, every battle you conquer is a step towards freedom and success, just like a ladder. Keep moving on and keep fighting the better fight and don’t give up, this is your life and your battle, you’ve gotta fight for it.
What progress do you see since you started your two very well-acknowledged campaigns “MyTrainToo” and #RampMyRestaurant?
There isn’t much progress for #RampMyRestaurant, unfortunately, but when it comes to #MyTrainToo, 8 stations have been successfully made wheelchair accessible. 5 in Kerala, 1 in Hyderabad, 1 in Odisha, and Bombay Central Station. Currently we’re working on making Churchgate Station accessible here in Mumbai through CSR.