Vidisha Baliyan is an Indian female deaf model, beauty pageant contestant, and a former retired tennis player. She has represented India at the 2017 Summer Deaflympics as well as at the 2019 Miss & Mister Deaf World contest. On 19 July 2019, she won the Miss Deaf World contest and became the first-ever Indian to be crowned as Miss Deaf World.
The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory. You notably won two silver medals at the 2016 National Games and then secured the fifth position at the 2017 Deaflympics in Turkey. Have you always been interested in sports and why specifically tennis?
When I was five years old, my parents found out that I was partially deaf and had a speech disorder. When the doctor suggested I be sent to a special school, my parents refused since they wanted me to grow up in a stigma-free environment. At school, I had no choice but to match the learning pace of others. I used to take a long time to grasp and understand all the lessons and despite my best efforts, academics remained rocket science to me. That was when I decided to try out a few sports. I was 12 when I started getting into volleyball, tennis, and basketball. However, I developed a liking for tennis since it did not involve much of a team effort.
I practiced for about two hours every day and dedicated a lot of effort to improve stamina, motor skills, and hand-eye coordination. I participated in the state-level tournament held by the Uttar Pradesh Tennis Association and went on to finish as the runner-up and then went on to win two silver medals at the National Games in 2016.
When I got selected for the Summer Deaflympics, I was ecstatic! However, a few days later, I injured my lower back during my preparation. Despite that, I continued my training – right from practicing shots and backhand techniques to rallying faster on the tennis court. It was a tough time for me, but I did not want to give up. 2017 Deaflympics, held in Turkey, in July 2017, saw the participation of 72 tennis players from different countries, wherein I stood fifth in the tournament.
You made the nation proud by not only winning the crown of Miss Deaf World 2019 but also becoming the first-ever Indian to do so. On a personal note, do you find a sizeable difference with respect to your confidence and people’s attitude towards you, post winning the pageant?
My journey has not been easy. My 100 percent hearing impairment in one ear and 90 percent in the other meant a lot of people would not even come forward to have conversations with me. They would only try to mock me and strong-arm me. I managed to get through school and college by lipreading whatever my teachers said in class. Since childhood, I had an inclination towards modeling. I used to imitate Bollywood heroines and do a couple of dance moves. So, I thought I’d give this a try. Since I had an athletic physique, I trained my body and mind for a beauty contest. The shift from sports shoes to heels was difficult and exciting at the same time. My secret to winning battles is inner strength. I believe that most hurdles can be overcome by tuning one’s mind. My immediate goal is to support people like me and channel opportunities for them by establishing a foundation of my own. I know how it feels to be differently-abled in a society that is judgmental. It takes both courage and hard work to be able to make a mark.
Your spectacular performance of Tandava in the talent round at the Miss Deaf World 2019 pageant left thousands inspired and awe-struck. What were the challenges you faced in preparing the dance production?
Since as far back as I can remember, I have always been attracted to dance and its various forms, and have been dancing voraciously, loving every bit of it, especially Bollywood style, even though I couldn’t hear the rhythm, melody or sounds clearly. When I thought about the talent round of the pageant, I always knew it would be a dance performance. Thus, I decided to challenge my limits and prepare a classical dance number. Tandava is a vigorous dance form performed by Lord Shiva. To dance, one needs fire in their heart and soul, and music in their spirit. Though I had very limited time to learn the complete dance form, I practiced Tandava under a professional teacher. I rehearsed for hours every day to attain perfection, which ultimately led to me putting up a good show at the pageant.
You captioned an Instagram post that winning the title is just the beginning of the dream. You’re impressively a woman of many talents, what other avenues do you deem to explore further down the line?
From the very beginning, I wanted to win the title for my community, so that I could help them in whichever way possible make their lives a tad bit easier. I wish to start a school where deaf people can learn to speak and learn things along with basic life skills that help them lead a normal life.
As someone who’s walking, or might I say sprinting (and winning!) in these shoes every day, do you have any advice or some expert insight for differently-abled people who feel disheartened and hesitant to pursue their passions?
My message to the Divyang community is that never give up! Just keep working towards your dreams and everything will fall in place sooner or later!