The phone went unanswered the first few times we tried reaching Ankita Shah. A while later, she responded back.
“Madam, meri brain haemorrhage hua hai. Tab doctor aya that toh call nahi utha payi (Madam, I have suffered from a brain haemorrhage. The doctor had come when you called, so I couldn’t pick up),” she said in a soft voice.
Over a brief phone call, Ankita shared the heartwrenching story of her life. From his father’s cancer to her own disability – 35-year-old Ankita Shah has braved the most difficult hurdles one can ever imagine. Ahmedabad’s first woman autorickshaw driver is a graduate in Economics who was forced by circumstances to take up this profession.
She was earning a decent income and dutifully provided for his father’s cancer treatment. However, as fate would have it, the COVID-19 pandemic brought India to a tragic standstill. Even amid the despair and uncertainty, Ankita persisted and continued her work diligently. But, life had more challenges in store for her.
In August 2020, Ankita met with a severe accident while driving her auto. The incident left her in a coma for five days. Afterwards, she had to undergo a rod implant in her working leg. She is still bedridden and unable to stand up on her own.
Challenges throughout the years
On World Disability Day, Platocast decided to honour this incredible lady, who overcame her physical limitations to inspire thousands. When her story was first published in a renowned national newspaper, readers from across India lauded her courage and determination. At present, Ankita Shah is battling every day to regain her normal life, and she needs your support more than ever.
Ankita Shah was born in Palitana, Gujarat, as the eldest child in a family of seven. From her childhood, she handled more responsibilities of the household than any of her siblings. She lost her right leg to Polio in childhood and had to get it amputated. She has been using a prosthetic right limb ever since.
Around a decade ago, Ankita’s entire family migrated from the small town to Ahmedabad, in search of better livelihood. At that time, her father was the sole earning member of the family. But fragile health soon claimed his ability to engage in physical work.
Ankita was pursuing her graduation in Economics. Soon after completing her degree, the responsibility of the entire family fell on her shoulders as her father had to quit working.
From call centres to real estate, Ankita juggled a series of jobs in diverse sectors to feed her family. She even worked in hotels as a housekeeper for some extra income. It was not long before she discovered she was being paid way less than the standard market salary in any of the jobs she pursued.
“The problem was my disability. Everywhere, I was being paid less or rejected outright in interviews because of my physical constraints,” Ankita opens up.
Despite facing discrimination in the professional sector, Ankita persisted for quite a few years in a variety of careers.
In June 2019, her world came crashing down, when her father was diagnosed with intestinal cancer.
Discrimination and rejection
Ankita was working at a call centre at that time where exhaustive work shifts took a toll on her. The paltry salary was also not enough to sustain her father’s treatment.
Determined to save her father, she quit the job and interviewed at another firm. Once again, she was rejected for her disability.
That was her last straw. “I knew that it was time for doing something on my own accord, where I would not have to serve anyone anymore,” she remarks.
While scrambling for options to earn independently, the idea of driving an autorickshaw crossed her mind. Her decision was obviously met with disapproval from everyone, including her family. But Ankita had made up her mind.
Ankita Shah’s indomitable courage
Lalji Barot, another physically-challenged auto-driver taught her to drive. He also helped secure a specialised autorickshaw for her, with hand-operated brakes for convenience.
Ferrying passengers from Chandkheda to Kalipur Railway Station for nearly 9 hours a day, Ankita made around 25,000 rupees per month. But the pandemic badly affected her earnings.
There was no celebration or even a word of appreciation from others when Ankita became Ahmedabad’s first woman autorickshaw driver. Instead, she was the subject of sexist remarks and offensive jeers from many. But she persevered through it all and always holds her head high.
At the moment Ankita has been transferred to Surat for post-surgical therapy and sustained treatment for brain haemorrhage. Her surgery was funded by her brother and a local trust, but now she needs around 3 lakhs more for her treatment. Ankita cannot even afford regular physiotherapy, let alone the cost of her prolonged treatment. Through a fundraiser, she has appealed to everyone to stand beside her at such a time of crisis. You can also support her by contributing some amount in the following account:
Account number: 002401574160
Account holder’s name: SHAH ANKITABEN
IFSC Code: ICIC0000024