by Sameer Majli
Determination, grit, vision and commitment, a tale of refusing to surrender to the limitations imposed by her biology, finding purpose when most others would have resigned to fate, a tale of our very own Belgaumite, Shakuntala Paranjape; the President of the Association of the Physically Handicapped, Belgaum. Born in a family of a freedom fighter, Shri. Sadashiv Paranjape, “Shakutai” as she is popularly known, is an exceptional woman, a one of her kind person, an ideal and an example to revere. Stricken by polio while still very small, at the age of two, she symbolizes the very essence of human spirit that finds hope and purpose in living beyond ability in order to make a difference to society at large, especially those who are as differently abled as she is.
Inspired by the work and ideals of her father who lived the concept of sacrifice for social good, Shakutai has been a symbol of enthusiasm and self-belief right since her childhood. Her father always encouraged her to be self- dependant and In a quest to attain self- reliance, she conducted tuitions for other children and even managed her own library “Anand Vachanalaya” at her house in Basavan galli. She served at the Karnataka Electricity Board from 1971 to 1997 and during the said period was also instrumental in the setting up and development of the association of which she is now President.
Encouraged by Mr. Baburao Diwan from Bangalore, she along with her associates, set up the Association of the Physically Handicapped on 13th Nov 1972, at the residence of Mr. D’Silva. The centre was later shifted to a place at SPM Road provided by Bhagini Vachanalaya for a rent of Rs.35/.. Generating membership involved reaching out to people and breaking social taboo. She and her team went from house to house to invite handicapped individuals. Eventually, they pursued their efforts to come up with a premise of their own. The act of chasing this dream and collecting funds commenced in 1979 and with contributions from all the major clubs and philantrophists in Belgaum, the City Corporation and the missionary, Bishop Lobo of Caritas, New Delhi, the premises at Alwan Galli was set up in 1987.
Initially the organization commenced with setup for Paper Bag making and eventually added candle making, binding, screen printing and rubber stamp making to their activities to provide employment and scope for self-reliance for the handicapped. In 1983 the organization obtained the agency for distribution of Bharat Gas.
The Association today has about 47 workers in-house while others contribute their efforts, part time. In addition to providing an occupation they also have a Physiotherapy unit, a nursery school and hostel facilities. They are also actively involved in distribution of wheel chairs, tricycles and callipers. With adequate support from society and her relentless efforts the members have participated in various performances and they even have a “Dandiya” team which they are proud of. Members of the organization have also excelled in various sports activities, thus bringing laurels to Belgaum. From funds generated from the LPG distribution and other donations, they have commenced construction of a first of its kind “Old Age Home for the Handicapped”, at Kuttalwadi.
As the organization grows from strength to strength, the joy on the face of this remarkable lady, tells a whole different tale of satisfaction and fulfilment at the end of an era of tireless struggle. While she has been the President of the organization for only two years, her efforts as Secretary since inception in 1972 and the pillar to post excursions that she has undertaken to bring today to light, is a tale less told but a fact well known to those who know her. Since 1985 she has been confined to her wheelchair and her movement confined to the ensuing limitations but her spirit, vision and commitment continue to know no bounds. It would be impossible for most to manage the sheer energy with which she continues to traverse distances even at this age, all for the welfare, well- being and joy of those who have limitations of her kind. Ethics and values inculcated from her parents and the support and wishes of many who know her for being the wonderful lady that she is, are in a sense, the source of the energy that keeps her going on and on.
The sorry part has probably been the recognition that she has got. This is not something that she seeks but just a true feeling. When we offered to interview her, she asked, why AAB wanted to do so and also remarked that no one has ever interviewed her before.
While many have been honoured at the state and even national levels for lesser deeds, is it fair on our part as Belgaumites to not bring to light the deeds and contributions of this wonderful, simple, soft spoken lady of our own soil? Do we always need to make efforts to be in the lime light to find the recognition that we deserve? Can’t we just be a simple, humble, grass root level worker and get what we deserve rather than what we seek?
Take a bow “Shakutai” the city of Belgaum is grateful for your efforts and invaluable contributions. You are our very own “Living Legend”.