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We are not less than anyone

Published Date: 19 Sep 2022

We are sharing a guest blog from Vidisha Baliyan, a talented young deaf lady who is becoming well-known in India. In this blog Vidisha shares her memories of childhood, and how she overcame barriers of prejudice with a good attitude and family support.  

When I was five years old, my parents got the sense that something was not right with me.They took me to the doctor, and the doctor declared that I was hearing-impaired. He proposed that I be placed in a special school. But my parents and maternal uncle were firm that I should get a normal education and upbringing. They argued that if I can say "Maa" and "doodh", why should I be placed in a special school? It was decided that I attend a regular school. My family worked hard to make my voice clearer. I was taken to the therapist for a  few months. My parents and my uncle also learnt from the therapist for me. Eventually, my voice started to improve.

My school life was quite challenging for me. I faced a lot of problems. Things were relatively fine up until the 5th or 6th grade, as I could view what my teachers were writing on the blackboard. After that, I faced difficulties because the teachers were instructing and dictating orally. I understood by reading lips and also by studying with my mother. Sometimes, when I missed work and tried to ask for help from my fellow students, they used to get annoyed. I did not score well in exams either.

Staying positive while feeling different 

For a hard-of hearing person, basic conversations can at times become taxing. I have been facing problems since childhood while talking to shopkeepers, strangers, or any normal person. They need to have patience while talking to me and speak slower. I remember when I used to play tennis with my group, my teammates used to get irritated and avoid me as they weren’t inclined to speak slowly. I have been avoided by so many people for this reason. There have been many times I felt useless and used to think, ‘Why did I? Why didn’t God allow me to die?'

Mom consoled me whenever I had negative thoughts. She used to say, "Beta, if you want to be successful, then you have to be strong and survive." With time, I started accepting myself and started doing positive affirmations too. Earlier, I felt insulted when I was called "deaf". Now I am proud to be deaf and hard of hearing.

A passion for sports 

When I was nine years old, I used to play basketball during summer and winter vacations at Welham Girls School in Dehradun. My coach used to notice me and suggested to my maternal grandfather that I play basketball professionally since I had an incredible physique. It was then I started playing professionally, but the problem was that I could not respond when my teammates wanted me to pass the ball. I then started playing tennis in 2009 in Dehradun based on my uncle’s suggestion to choose an individual game. Initially, I came in as a runner-up at the state level. Gradually, my game improved and led me to the National Level (normal category). After a few years, I came to know about the Deaflympics when I read about them in a newspaper in 2016. I got excited and started preparing for the same. I got the fifth position in tennis doubles in 2017 at Samsun in Turkey (Deaflympics).

Sania Mirza has been my role model because she was the first woman in tennis. I was inspired by her. Initially, I faced quite a few challenges. I played tennis in Delhi, so I used to travel from Modinagar (near Meerut) to the academy for practice. It took me two and a half hours to get there. I used to play tennis in a group and had difficulties understanding what the coach was saying. Sometimes the coach used to get annoyed because he had to reiterate himself only for me. The players didn’t make it easy for me either. Some people used to copy my voice. Some avoided me because they didn’t have the patience to speak to me. Some people used to laugh at me too. I started feeling like I was nothing and felt alone and negative. Whenever something wrong happened, at the academy or elsewhere, I used to come back home crying my eyes out and asking, "Why does this only happen to me?"

Mom chastised me at times, buts he also made me understand how things work. She used to say," Vidisha, if you want to be successful, then you have to survive and be strong because you are in this hard society and there will be harsh situations." You have to learn to accept both situations and yourself as what you are. By watching motivational videos (subtitles, watching it again to understand, or asking my mother for clarification when I didn't understand), I gradually began to accept and love myself.

I started thinking positively and made some positive-minded friends.Slowly,I became confident and started overcoming some problems. When someone speaks fast, I proudly say I am hard of hearing and request they speak slowly. When I look back, I realise every experience shaped me and helped me become stronger. For the Deaflympics, I started playing individual games with Coach and also used to play with the group for two hours. My workouts in the gym used to be for two hours, and I used to follow a strict diet. Also, my mental workouts—meditation, breathing exercises, and visualization helped me too.
I had a severe back injury in my lower back (L-4, L-5, and S-1 disc slipped) as I was preparing for the Deaflympics in Turkey. I was a rank-holder in the Deaflympics (5th position in doubles) and won the silver medal twice in the National Games for tennis. But I couldn’t cope with the strenuous practises for long. The doctors suggested I take a break for a few months, and I took a break for eleven months be grudgingly. It was heart-breaking because sports meant the world to me. As a hearing-impaired child, I couldn’t shine in education due to my limitations, but sports gave me so much and educated me a lot.

I was going for regular physiotherapy sessions and doing exercises for my lower back. Whenever I felt low, I used to meditate, speak to myself positively, and watch motivational videos. I kept straddling between practising and complete rest.

Winning Miss Deaf India 

After I took a break from sports after the Deaflympics on doctor’s suggestions, I luckily came across the Miss Deaf India contest. I felt hopeful again and thought it would be a great opportunity to enhance my personality too. So, I sought my mom’s permission to participate in the contest. My mom seemed reluctant initially, because to participate in such contests, people need to be resilient and resistant. But after my persistent requests, she agreed. I started to practise walking for two hours in high heels every day. I learnt makeup, worked on my fashion sense and did cardio to become fitter and in shape. I followed a strict diet regimen as well.

As a child, I was fascinated with fashion, definitely. I used to love wearing high heels when I used to see others wearing them, but I couldn’t wear them as I was too young. I used to apply lipstick and bindi, for which my mom used to make fun of me. I was hyper-active.

My biggest transition was to change my rough-sportsperson persona to a more feminine one. When I entered the beauty industry,  I had to take good care of my skin and hair in particular. My walk had to be changed, and overall grooming was a big part of the changes that I underwent. My first particular memory was when I practised international sign language, which I found difficult but somehow managed to learn.

In terms of dancing, I've been imitating Bollywood stars since I was a child. I love dancing and I can learn it very easily. So, that wasn’t challenging for me at all. I had performed Bollywood dancing for Miss Deaf India as well. For Miss Deaf World, the Wheeling Happiness Team, the NGO who supported me and my mother, felt that classical dance would be a good fit for the global platform. So they chose Tandav. I had taken dance lessons from Ms. AnupamaIyer fifteen days before the Miss Deaf World pageant. I was very happy to perform the tandav dance in front of the global audience.

I was determined to win the pageant because I wanted to help people like me and be a conduit of opportunities for them. I am also extremely excited to share with the world the importance of health, fitness, and positivity and how important these aspects are for a good life. There have been many lows in my life, and sometimes still are, but life teaches us to never allow it to break us. I wish to use  my story, my life and my work to empower people like me because I know how it feels to be disabled in a society that is prone to judging easily.

I also wish the government and people’s support and empathy increased for disabled people. Being Miss Deaf World was such a memorable and fun experience for me. Though it’s just a competition, the atmosphere was filled with fun practices, games, and events. I used to play games with my fellow contestants and had a really enjoyable day at Kruger’s National Park. My roommate at the contest was really sweet and helpful. Small moments, like my roommate giving me yoghurt when I was hungry, will always remain special.
The "I couldn’t contain my joy and was sobbing-while-getting-crowned" picture is making the rounds in the media. But here's the thing: I can't describe how I felt. I used to visualise myself winning, and when it actually happened, I felt my prayers were answered. My interest in learning and my dedication worked in my favour. I am a student by heart and love learning. A huge heartfelt thanks to my sports background, as because of that alone, I am highly disciplined and fitness-conscious and if I work for something, I do not measure effort but commit myself to it 100%. I would say these qualities helped me in sports and the pageant. It's not just me, but many hearing-impaired people have an abundance of talent but lack the platform or opportunity to express it.

Half the battle lies in the mind 

As you’re aware, half the battle lies in the mind. I was keen on making my mark in the pageant because it would help me provide a platform for other hearing-impaired people. God and prayers strengthened me. Visualization helped me. A daily meditation practice of twenty minutes played a key role in preparing me mentally. As a pageant contestant, physical fitness and physical appearance were important factors, so I was doing daily yoga practice, occasional swimming, and cardio to achieve the optimum level of fitness and a toned body. I followed a strict diet recommended by a dietician. The food, the practice, and the exercises, all in combination, worked out well.

My daily beauty regimen is fairly straightforward and basic, which is applicable to anyone who wants to live a healthier life. To drink lots of water, to do regular exercise and yoga, to avoid oil and junk food, and to meditate. Most importantly, it’s a cliché, ‘to be happy'.

I think the most important thing is to be comfortable and confident while wearing any outfit. Style, in my opinion, would be when one can wear what they want and feel ecstatic about it.

I think the best things in life happen without too much planning. Yes, I’d like to have a career in modelling and am open to creative collaborations. But my unwavering goal, which helped me win the contest, is to open a foundation for the deaf community. My goal is to not only provide a platform for the deaf, but also raise awareness about the difficulties that deaf and disabled people face in the mainstream industry. With awareness, people become empathetic and understanding.

My message to people with disabilities 

My message to people with disabilities would be, "to believe in yourself and in the God who created you." "To accept yourself as you are and to love yourself." To help and be kind to everyone and to ignore what you don’t have and appreciate what you do have." Also, to discover the one thing that you are made for, and turn that into a talent. I have stopped feeling sorry for myself or ashamed about my 'disability', and I would like to suggest this to every disabled person to stop drowning themselves in self-pity.

Let’s make the best out of life with what we’re given and prove to ourselves and the whole world that we are not less than anyone.