Disability activist Virali Modi was in Kochi recently as part of her #mytraintoo campaign.
Virali Modi’s is an inspiring, miraculous tale. The beginning is tragic, but then comes the silver lining followed by rays of hope and determination, making a radiant woman out of a little girl had been comatose. A disability activist, motivational speaker, model, adventure junkie and a beauty pageant runner-up, the 26-year-old wheelchair-bound woman was featured among BBC 100 Women 2017. She had come to Kochi all the way from Mumbai recently as part of her #mytraintoo campaign, under which she collects petitions seeking disabled-friendly rail facilities.
Recalling how the spark for the campaign got ignited, she says, “I was molested three times while trying to board a train in Mumbai. Since our railway stations lacked ramps or lifts or platforms making trains accessible for everyone, I had to be lifted from my wheelchair to the train by luggage porters. All the three times, I was groped, touched and manhandled, like a piece of luggage.”
The incident made her start the campaign, which she took to former Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu. She is glad that the results are showing.
Excited about the permanent and portable ramps for disabled passengers, small wheelchairs to get inside the train, electronic buggy to transport them, disabled-friendly lounges and wheelchair-friendly washrooms at Ernakulam Junction Station, she expressed joy over finding that six stations in Kerala are disabled-friendly. “I am glad that so much progress is happening here. My fight is for accessibility. Even Mumbai is yet to receive complete accessibility at railway stations. I have been actively meeting politicians for that,” says Virali, whose life overturned ten years ago when she contracted malaria.
Admitted to hospital in a critical condition, Virali suffered a respiratory and cardiac arrest that left her comatose. When the doctors gave up hope and were about the remove her life support system, she suddenly opened her eyes, bouncing back to life. But it wasn’t all happy. She was paralysed down her waist and couldn’t walk again. Her parents— Pallavi and Jithesh — have been very supportive, but society always reminded of her inability. Depressed, she attempted suicide three times. But slowly, she grew out of it, to follow all her dreams — of becoming an actor, of serving people. Everywhere, she was judged for her disability.
A strong woman, Virali could no longer be beaten by bitterness. She fought, became a top writer on Quora, took part in the Miss Wheelchair India beauty pageant and became the runner-up and got over nervousness. Now a motivational speaker and model, she nurses acting dreams. “Having attended theatre workshops and acting classes, I would like to become an actress, not just because of my passion, but to inspire others that you can make it there whatever comes your way,” says Virali, who works for a portal that offers holiday initiatives for the disabled. An adventure buff, she did scuba diving four times last year and has travelled all over three continents. According to her, disability doesn’t make a difference to anyone’s life because anything is possible if you have a vision and will power.
She also has a message for the disabled. “Never give up; never settle for what life offers. You have every right a normal able-bodied person has. Never take ‘no’ for an answer and never step down. Fight for what you think is right and fight for your rights. Keep smiling because life is beautiful.”
Aiming at taking the #mytraintoo campaign across India and advocating accessibility for all, Virali wants all disabled people to get out of their homes and enjoy the world. She also strongly objects to labels like specially-abled and differently-abled. “Those terms directly or indirectly mean abnormal. Disabled are rapists, murderers or psychopaths. If in not that sense, disabled is a term applicable to all as everyone is less able that another person. For me, this wheelchair is my throne and I am a queen!”