Navin Gulia is a recipient of the “National Role Model, 2006” awarded by the then president, late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam; and the World Record holder in “Adventure Driving” with an honourable mention in Limca Book– ‘People of the Year’ 2005. Looking at his accomplishments, it is unimaginable that Navin was declared 100% disabled when he was just 22-years old.
Like his father, Narain Singh Gulia, a retired army colonel, Navin Gulia was ambitious to serve in the Indian army. In 1995, during his final training days in the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, he met with a fatal accident that severely damaged his spinal cord. His entire body became paralyzed, and he was airlifted to the Pune military hospital, where he was declared as permanently disabled. Doctors suggested that he would need the help of two attendants for the rest of his life to even accomplish mundane tasks in daily life. Naveen had to quit the Indian military. However, the spirit of a true soldier, who fights till the last breath no matter how gruesome the circumstances are, never died within him.
He came to Delhi to pursue post-graduation in Computer science. To keep himself occupied, he took up the job of a teacher in Delhi and helped them set-up a computer centre. Alongside, he also started working with an NGO that served disabled Army men and children. Unlike those around him, Navin never took pity in his state. If anything, it made him gain a deeper understanding of how life works. In his own words,
For a tiger to walk alone, strong, confident, and fearless, is not bravery. It is an outing. It is what it is. It is its Nature. It possibly cannot be anything else except that. In life, never give yourself a choice to be anything except what you wish to be. Make it your nature.
In 2004, he married Khushi, an artist specializing in tribal art, from Goa. Navin believes that his wife should do whatever she wants to, without restricting herself to look after him. With time, Navin’s quest for life and adventure grew. In 2005, he modified his car with a hand-operated accelerator and brake, and drove to the top of Marsimik La, the highest motorable mountain pass in the world at 18,632 feet. He drove 1110 km from Delhi to Marsimik La in 55 hours, driving almost non-stop, in life-threatening conditions. This earned him a spot in the Limca Book of World Records as he is the first disabled person to achieve this feat.
He could have made this achievement the highlight in his life. Hailing from army, he commanded a pension of Rs. 1 lakh per month (approximate amount). He could easily spend the rest of his life in glory, having both money and fame. However, Navin never settled for any superficial luxury. Having seen the highs and lows in life, he found his calling in serving the society. In 2007, he founded “Apni Duniya Apna Aashiyana” a.k.a. ADAA. “Adaa also means grace in Hindi,” says Navin. “We work in Barhana, a village – located about 53 km from Delhi – in Haryana, with the children of the brick kiln workers. The village has the worst sex ratio of 327 females to every 1000 male children.” Barhana practices crude gender discrimination against female children by either getting them married off at 15 or 16; or worse, not encouraging female childbirth. However, through ADAA initiatives, Navin has managed to improve the situation. He heavily promotes academics and sports education for every child. It is due to his never-ending efforts that two girls from Barhana won gold medals in wrestling at the state level, and are now training for the national tournaments. Modest that he is, Navin gives all the credit to hard work done by the children, who he believes to be extremely talented. They just need the right environment to grow up in.
Courtesy ADAA, Barhana is slowly but steadily progressing. Navin relies on his FB page with 16000 followers, and his own pension, for funding. Saving maximum resources for the children, ADAA does not have any dedicated office space and employes only two permanent teachers who work with Navin. Results of this transformation, as shared by The Weekend Leader are inspiring beyond belief. Sunny, a 19-year old disabled boy with one hand and limb loss, with the support of ADAA, today studies in Delhi University. Another disabled boy from Srinagar, who could not even walk, learnt to drive modified cars, and today runs his own automobile shop. There are countless such stories of transformation.
Today, Navin has received many accolades including an award from the president and a world record to his name. He is a Motivational speaker, Social worker, Adventure enthusiast, and an Author of “In Quest of the Last Victory”, a collection of his memoirs published in 2012. Not to forget, a progressive husband too.
To me, his story should be cited as an example of how one can change, rather crush the definition of disability.
Navin, a supposedly 100% permanently disabled man puts all those perfectly able-bodied people with a 100% permanently weak mind, to shame.