When we spoke to Monika Dandriyal (20) from New Delhi she was still simmering with indignation from being overlooked for a job at a textile company that hired an ITI classmate whose academic credentials were not as good as hers. Discrimination based on physical appearance is something that innumerable disabled persons face in the job market every day, and Monika has been no exception.
Monika is the younger of two children born to Manoj Dandriyal, who works as a driver at Classic Honda in Mehrauli, and Hema Dandriyal, a homemaker. In our conversation that switched between Hindi and English, she talked about how a fever that lasted for over a month, when she was two and a half years old, left her with a debilitated right arm and impacted the right side of the face. She then described her travails of her recovery and the undaunted spirit that kept her going as a bright student at the RSKV School, Mehrauli.
When she was in Class 11 studying in the CBSE stream she was chosen as a prefect owing to her discipline and rigour and won an award for it too, making her parents and elder brother Manish, proud. Though her favourite subject in school was mathematics, she could not pursue a degree in the subject as the college was too far away. So she chose to do multiple things – a dress design diploma from the Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute, a jewellery design course from Kamla Nehru College under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana, and a textile design course at the ITI. As if all this wasn’t enough, she is pursuing her B.A. in History and Political Science and is in the final year through private studies. She recently won a cash prize, a certificate and award at a poster-making contest conducted by the NGO Shaksam on the theme of disability.
As a child, watching her mother Hema, who is a decorations artist, never throwing anything away and reusing things to beautify tablecloths, flower arrangements and decorative materials, Monika developed interest in converting waste into craft. She also gets a kick out of turning leftover rice and other food items into cutlets and noodles through artful and imaginative additions.
She counts Meenakshi Madam at the ITI as her inspiration. The teacher, impressed by her speed of learning embroidery, block-printing and dyeing skills, used to encourage Monika wholeheartedly. While the rest of the students were expecting her to fare poorly, she surprised all by making four screen-prints in a week, while the rest produced just one. There were those who tried to demoralise her but she stood by her credo, “If they can do it, why can’t I?”
Owing to the locomotor disability in the right arm, her left arm compensates by being the strong one. Thus she has no problems using both hands, though she makes minimal use of the right hand. The right side of the face has been cosmetically fixed a bit but not completely.
The smart TV at home is one of her windows to the world. A cricket fan, she watches all the IPL matches. She is a fan of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli, the last being her all-time favourite. Like most young people, she loves Bollywood and Hollywood movies that she watches both in cinemas and on OTT platforms and YouTube. Varun Dhawan is her favourite because of his fitness and dress sense and Kiara Advani for her style. Interestingly, she also watches Tamil films as she thinks they are family-themed movies you can watch from home with others as well.
Monika loves home-cooked rajma chawal but likes to occasionally indulge in pizzas, burgers and Italian food (white sauce pasta being the favourite) when she eats out. She has a close friend in her childhood playmate, Dipali, who is a makeup artist at the Lakme Studio. Her brother Manish (23) works for a private company in the HR department.
Monika is clear about what she wants: to be an entrepreneur and start a textile-based studio or factory manufacturing tablecloths, bedsheets, hand- and block-printed cloth, and jewellery. Four or five of her friends are interested in joining her too. She is looking for a seed capital of ₹ 2 to 5 lakh. If she can’t manage to cobble together that sum, she will seek employment elsewhere.
What drives her dream of entrepreneurship? “I would like to offer an opportunity for people like me who face discouragement and rejection due to their disability. I want to recognise their abilities and give them a chance to be successful.”
Does that remind you about what this blog is all about? Everyone is good at something.