The incredible story of Nipun Malhotra, PGP MFAB 2016
“..we all are made different. Maybe my differentiating factor is visible while yours isn’t”. But wouldn’t life be boring if each one of us was the same?”
I was born with arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder leading to restricted muscles in arms and legs. Doctors diagnosed that I’ll live the life equivalent to a wooden doll. Some even went on to say that it’s worth keeping me alive as my neck is straight but one shouldn’t expect much more.
However, I was lucky to have been born to parents who chose to judge me for what I could do and not for what I couldn’t. They decided to send me to a normal school and didn’t give up when rejections piled up. They were urged to send me to a special school, one reserved for the Disabled but they’d made up their mind. Finally, one school selected me for my abilities.
School life wasn’t easy. I didn’t have friends (I guess it wasn’t cool at that age to have a friend on a wheelchair). So, while my friends partied, I studied, carrying a book wherever I went – becoming the official nerd of the class. Soon they would start depending upon me for notes during exams.
I topped the country in Class 12th, scoring 98 in Business Studies. However, back in 2005 most colleges weren’t accessible and I was forced to do a BBA in an unaccredited college for two years. Unhappy and restless, I dropped out and applied to various colleges in the University of Delhi and was lucky to gain admission into Economics Honours at St. Stephen’s College. I was asked in my interview if I would be ready to be carried to the first floor everyday - they heard a resounding YES! After the first four days seeing my motivation to attend classes, the economics classrooms were shifted down and the mathematics department was shifted up for the first time in a 125-year-old institution. When my parents went to thank the administration, they said “his perseverance made it possible”.
After St. Stephen’s, I went on to pursue Masters in Economics from Delhi School of Economics. It was at DSE that I sat for placements and first hand saw the discrimination Persons with Disabilities face. Some of the attitudes of the companies were worth recording. Despite proof of my academic and extra-curricular competency I was actually asked in one interview if I'd ever read a book. I've also gone through multiple rounds of interviews with a leading media company and a consulting firm answering questions on whether I can use a laptop. The eventual reason presented to me for rejection was that the company didn't have a toilet for the physically challenged. I tried assuring them that it wasn’t a problem for me as I knew how to control my bladder but they countered that by saying it was a problem for them as they feared me ‘suing’ them at a future date.
I was deflated and depressed. I even started penning my obituary. However, what I realized after a month being locked up was that there were millions of others like me – less fortunate though, to not have the supportive family that I’d had in my life.
I founded the Nipman Foundation that works in the area of health and advocacy for Persons with Disabilities in 2012. In addition, I also joined Nipman Fastener Industries, my family business as an Executive Director. Later, I would go on to study the Post Graduate Programme in Management for Family Business (PGPMFAB) at Indian School of Business (12 of the most memorable weeks of my life) and now look after finance and strategy in my family business.
Realising the discrimination Persons with Disabilities face in the corporate sector, we started conducting accessibility audits at organisations and helping in job mapping of Persons with Disabilities. Today, I am the Curator of the Nipman Foundation Microsoft Equal Opportunity Awards that recognize organisations making significant contributions to the disabled in the workspace and lifestyles. I also work with the Confederation of Indian Industry National Committee on Special Abilities that promotes inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in the corporate sector.
I have been at the forefront of numerous efforts to ensure access for the disabled. The wheelchair access filters in restaurant listings on Zomato, the availability of wheelchairs at the recent NH7 and the Jaipur Literature Festival, are direct results. I also lobbied with the Delhi Government to get the Disabled exempted from the Odd-Even car rule. I audited the Rajghat, Tihar, Mandoli and Rohini Jails on behalf of the Delhi High Court in 2018. Since August 2016, I’m part of NITI Aayog’s experts panel. I worked with the Central Industrial Security Force to ease security procedures for Persons with Disabilities at airports. I defeated the Delhi government in the High Court via a PIL on the procurement of accessible public transport. This judgement changes the game for public transportation across the country.
In 2016, I launched ‘Wheels for Life’ (www.wheelsforlife.in) - a crowdsourcing platform connecting those who need wheelchairs to donors who can financially contribute for them. With a presence in 21 states, ‘Wheels For Life’ has impacted over 1,000 individuals.
On this World Disability Day, I have just one message for everyone. Whenever you see anyone who looks different, not necessarily physically disabled; but maybe of a different economic class, caste, colour or sexuality, look beyond the horizons and respect him or her for whatever he or she is. Because we all are made different. Maybe my differentiating factor is visible while yours isn’t. But wouldn’t life be boring if each one of us was the same?