From clearing CA in her first attempt to learning how to drive, paraglide, and swim, Mumbai's Shilpa Mehta Jain has proved her mettle despite being affected by polio. Read how she braved the challenges that came her way.
Shilpa Mehta Jain was born and brought up in Mumbai, but her family had strong roots in Sanchore, a small village in Rajasthan. So, even though being a woman with a disability was never a twofold blow for her, that wasn’t how her extended family and society viewed her growing up.
“When I was in school, people used to tell my father to stop spending money on my education. The school fee was around eight rupees a month at the time. They would express pity towards my father and tell him that he will need more dowry to get me married as I was disabled,” the 43-year-old tells The Better India.
Diagnosed with scoliosis (Polio) when she was two months old, Shilpa grew up with 94 percent post-polio syndrome which affected her lower limbs.
“Yes, I am disabled. So what? I am capable of doing so many other things. I decided that ‘Boss, I have to do something to make my parents proud!’,” she says.
Working brick by brick
As a child, Shilpa had no friends in school. She could not play or accompany her classmates to the playground. It was only during the mental skill competitions, which were quite limited, that she would get any accolades or affection from teachers. So she realised early on that education was the key to success.
Despite the mammoth physical setback of living with polio, she set foot on an ambitious journey with grit, passion, and determination. Shilpa secured 82 percent in Class 10 and 75 percent in Class 12.
She further proved her mettle by becoming a Chartered Accountant (CA) in 2001. She cleared all three levels of CA, considered one of the most challenging examinations, in her first attempt. She also completed MCom and MBA.
But while pursuing the competitive exam when she went to enrol herself for articleship, she was rejected by many firms despite being good in academics. “The only reason I was rejected was my disability. Articles need to go to other clients for audit. So, in my resume, I would mention that I can travel independently. Normally, no one has to mention this,” she recalls. Finally, she got the articleship from a reference.
Shilpa worked hard to build a life of dignity one brick at a time.
Driving to Swimming, Paragliding
She also pursued varied other interests — such as driving, swimming, trekking, paragliding, and kayaking without any assistance.
“I had to skip college when my driver would not come. I thought this should not hinder my education. I cannot be dependent on anybody. I started learning to drive a two-wheeler and later a four-wheeler,” says Shilpa.
“My husband used to introduce me to all kinds of sports. For him, my disability did not matter,” she adds.
Like any other person, she wanted to be physically fit. So, in 2018, she decided to learn to swim. But at every stage of life, she was reminded of her disability.
“I had a tough time getting classes as no one would allow me to swim. After six months of resistance, I went to a club and put my foot down. I told the coach if he did not teach me how to swim, I would stay right there. Realising there was no way to kick me out, he asked me to come in the afternoon batch in peak summer months,” she recalls.
“I took that batch. On the first day, we were 40 people; all 39 stood at one side, and I stood alone. I still remember the kind of looks I got; everyone was gossiping. However, within seven days, I learned to swim while others struggled to even get into the water. I have now swam in rivers and oceans,” she adds.
Meanwhile, the attitude of people towards her started changing once she became a CA. “When I started riding a scooter, no one would sit behind me. But when I got the degree and cleared CA, people would often ask me to go for a ride to have ice cream,” laughs Shilpa, adding, “Everything changed from the way they talk to me to the way they speak to my father about me.”
To support 100 persons with disabilities
On 10 January this year, Shilpa was awarded the ICAI award by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) for her diligent and excellent professional achievements. On account of receiving the recognition, Shilpa pledged to financially support 100 people with disabilities to pursue their CA in the next 10 years.
“This award is a testimonial that once you prove yourself, the world will eventually acknowledge your capabilities,” she says, adding, “When I received the award, many people congratulated me. I realised I have achieved so much; why shouldn’t I give something back to society? I should try and help those like me [people with disabilities] in getting articleship and exposure…and leverage my network for their benefit.”
A day after receiving the award, Shilpa started a scholarship called ‘Shantilal Mehta Scholarship’ in her father’s name. She dedicated Rs 10 lakh of her savings towards this. So far, she has identified three impoverished visually-impaired persons from Rajasthan’s Alwar, whom she is going to help financially to pursue CA.
“There are many people like me who start their career, but at a certain point, they do not get enough opportunities. That is why you will not find people with disabilities holding higher posts. As a person with a disability, you may have to struggle more compared to others, but if you have capabilities nothing can stop you,” says Shilpa.
Edited by Pranita Bhat