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Standing up for women, disabled former athlete to deliver inspirational talk



Panaji: A freak accident in Pondicherry left her quadriplegic, when she’d just started soaring high, as a national swimmer and state cricket player and excelling in academics. The ups and downs that came thereafter were deterring and unwinding, but Preethi Srinivasan still describes her tumultuous journey as successful.

“I had an accident that left me paralysed below the neck at the age of 18. Back then, I did not have the maturity to deal with it. I thought it wasn’t fair to me,” recalls Srinivasan.

But then slowly as life taught her, she came to a position of complete acceptance, love and surrender — to believe that each moment of her life is a miracle and a blessing.

Despite having two near death experiences; the lady with purpose and grit says, “I believe I am kept alive for a greater purpose, for it to represent a segment of society that is otherwise invisible and that has no face or voice.”

It was later in 2013, when two disabled girls were fed poison at their home, because of the shame and burden, she realised that the problem is much bigger and with women making up for the majority of the population in India, how would those with disabilities be able to live life with dignity.

Her friends and family gave her the impetus to be the change for those paralysed, but Srinivasan, who herself was dependent on her mother and late father who had to forgo his job, to take care of Srinivasan, was scared to take up the initiative.

Along with her mother, Vijayalakshmi Srinivasan she co-founded Soulfree, a foundation in Tamil Nadu’s Chennai to restore, rehabilitate and reintegrate persons with disabilities into society.

“I believe that I’ve been given a greater purpose by the divine to spend each moment of my life with passion and gratitude,” says Srinivasan.

Women in general are treated badly, and those with disabilities are considered a shame and burden to society, and this needs to change, Srinivasan mentions, adding “that the change has to first come from within us (women)”, to break the stigma and look ahead despite challenges that may come.

The 20,000 sq ft facility of Soulfree INSPIRE Centre is the first-of-its-kind integrated spinal rehabilitation in India- with an integrated spinal rehabilitation centre. But the goal Srinivasan mentions is to become a true centre for excellence and research in the holistic management of spinal cord injury. “We are doing a lot of work in using traditional medical systems and all systems for healing and all of them coming together,” she says talking about the various success stories of people who’ve got a new lease of life and are empowered now through Soulfree INSPIRE Centre in Thiruvannamalai, a small temple town.

Here, the goal is to achieve self-reliance from a physical, psychological and social economic perspective. Till date over 100 persons have completed their rehabilitation here.

Srinivasan, the first woman with a 90% disability to have ever enrolled for a PhD programme at an IIT, believes that the fight of women with significant impairments in India will continue to be highlighted by her through her work at Soulfree, and through her interactions in society.

“I will ensure that society comes to know about us. And that there is a spark for change,” she says.

Srinivasan has been invited to Goa on March 11, to describe her journey, talk about success stories of women with disabilities and empower women as part of Women’s Day celebrations being organised at Sanjay School, Porvorim.

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