When Akshansh Gupta was born, he did not move for four hours. Panic set in, as the doctors presumed he was dead.
But his body showed some movement, and they all heaved a sigh of relief.
But as he was growing, his parents realised that his growth pattern was different from other kids of his age.
When referred to doctors in his hometown of Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh, he was wrongly treated for polio. Only after a while the family realised that the young boy was suffering from cerebral palsy.
Today, at 35, the young man with 95 per cent disability in his body has not only earned a PhD in Computer Science but is also working on a start-up, with two fellow PhD scholars–K R Anandam and Prabhat Ranjan.
Christened IRADA (Integrative Research Analysis and Development Academy), it will provide career counselling and research guidance to school students and PhD scholars.
In an interview with BBC News, he recalls, “My condition during childhood was severe. I couldn’t hear and mostly kept staring at one spot for too long. I really felt very isolated. My mother sent me to a normal school and not a special one. And people around me kept doubting my potential.”
While his lower limbs don’t function at all, his arm movements are still not quite in control. Moreover, speaking in a decipherable manner is difficult for him.
The questions were many – how would this young boy, with more than 95 per cent disability, manage to make something of his life? How would he sit in school for long hours?
But Akshansh was determined to complete his education.
“I feel that once you, in your heart, are determined to do something, you will achieve it. Until you do that yourself, you cannot expect the world to support you. My friends never treated me differently. I like spending time with them,” he told BBC.
Fondly known as Bunty Dada among his friends at his alma mater Jawaharlal Nehru University, he was awarded a doctorate at a special convocation held in the Vice-Chancellor’s office.
An overwhelming moment for the young man, it was a reflection of the meticulous efforts he had put in the five years at JNU from his room in Kaveri Hostel. His thesis was on ‘Brain-Computer Interface’, which also gave him the opportunity to travel abroad to Malaysia to present a paper on the subject.
Speaking to The Times of India, he adds how he opted for computer science, considering it to be relatively easier due to the nature of practicals and laboratory work it entails, given his condition.
But before you think his BTech or MTech were easier, it is important to highlight the struggles the young man faced as a child even during primary schooling in Jaunpur.
“When I saw my siblings go to school, I wanted to do likewise. But in my condition, which school would admit me?” he says.
Then, with admirable lack of rancour, he adds, “In general, in our country, the attitude towards people with disabilities is quite negative. The first thing people ask is, ‘Kya karega padhke?’ (What will you gain by studying?)”
The strongest support for him through these difficult times were two women. His late mother, whose garlanded photograph he places next to deities; and Meera Sahu, a teacher who finally got him admitted to a school. His mother was the one who insisted he get an education.
Another pillar of support was Mahajan, an uneducated rickshaw puller who ferried Akshansh 15 km to the Umanath Singh Institute of Engineering and Technology in Jaunpur every day, where he earned his BTech degree in computer science.
“Mahajan and I talked about the world beyond Jaunpur, and that was when I decided I want(ed) to step out. My family was reluctant, but they eventually agreed,” Akshansh told TOI.
His friends and classmates speak highly of the young doctor.
Piyush Maurya, an MPhil student and his hostel mate at JNU, told the publication, “He has an extraordinary mind. He always wanted to prove that disability was a myth.”
Another friend, Ummal Kher, told BBC, “What Akshansh has achieved proves that persons with disability are not the ‘others’ of the society. They are an integral and central part of it. And given a chance, can do a lot of justice to the opportunities they are presented with.”
What is ironical though is that despite having a BTech and MTech degree, he struggled to find a job.
When TOI asked him if he held a grudge against the system for framing disability policies without consulting the affected people, he refused.
“Because we are not vote-banks,” he said.
Currently working as a research associate at JNU, he has vacated the University hostel and lives outside the campus with a caretaker.
But we are hopeful that his new venture will take off, and he will receive the required support to reach as many students as he can!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)