Shruti Pathak, a 21-year-old from Ghaziabad was told to keep pebbles in her mouth while talking. It was even suggested that she place coins under her tongue. In school, her teacher locked her up in the washroom because of her stammer.
Dixit Arora, 30 year old Infosys employee was unemployed for three years. He attended over 100 interviews but his stammer during interviews doomed him, he says.
It is not easy being a person who stammers in India. In a country with lax or little infrastructure dedicated to disabilities, speech barely makes the cut. It’s been the low hanging comedic fruit for film and television for decades. And when even Bollywood stars talk about being bullied for it, well...it can’t be easy.
Arora told me that when people mock his impediment—it is overt—he loses sleep. “We grow up with a lot of baggage. There is guilt. There is shame,” he said.
In a culture that prizes loud and garrulous people, how do people who stammer find a place for themselves?
Siddharth Rustogi* recalled one day in class VIII when he couldn’t say the words “Present ma’am” during attendance. “After that it kind of snowballed,” he said. Currently a student at the University School of Law and Legal Studies in Delhi, the 22-year-old explained that “People equate my stammer to a lack of knowledge and lack of confidence. I am perceived as an incompetent person.”
His parents weren’t supportive. They would ask him to stay silent when their friends or relatives visited. He was asked to speak less so as to hide his stammer and make him appear “normal in front of others.”
Pathak was bullied by boys in school. She copes by using words that are easier for her or pausing--techniques gleaned from speech therapy. “We grow up with an inferiority complex thinking something is wrong with us,” she told me.
Every day before making a phone call, she rehearses what she wants to say.
How It Affects Their Career
For Ravi Kumar, a 21-year-old student from Jharkhand, stammering meant botching the interview round of the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata, his dream college. “I blanked out. I was nervous. I feared that because of my stammer, I will get rejected.” And he was.
Studying Chemical Engineering at IIT Guwahati, he is hesitant to raise his hand when a professor asks a question, affecting his participation grade.
For Rustogi*, pursuing law, the fear of an interview is never far. “My biggest worry is that I won’t be able to talk and that I might get labelled as dumb.” “I have a stammer. It just means that I can communicate but I will communicate with a difference.”
It can’t be cured, at best controlled. Arora told me, “I have to live with it everyday.” He hopes speech therapy will help. He claimed western speech therapy didn’t work in India. He said people have told him that “they experienced a relapse after the speech therapy.”
Vandana Grover is 44 years old. She heads the sales team at a real estate firm and is now a primary coach for speech therapy at Mcguire Programme, India chapter. “I always thought of myself as worthless. I stammer since my birth.” Around 2003, she told me her stammer got worse. And so did her self-worth.
She was 42 when she started speech therapy. “It transformed me forever. Stammer doesn't have a cure. It has to be dealt with daily.” She believes people who stammer have to assertively accept themselves first before they can hope for the society to do the same.
Ravi Kumar tried Tinder years ago. He never went out on a single date. “I used to have Tinder on my phone, but now I am tired. Girls rejected me after they know I stammer.” Arora blames his stammer for his singlehood. “I tell girls on the first meeting itself that I stammer and that I am trying to get better.” But he believes many proposals don’t mature because of his speech impediment.
Grover is hopeful she will soon find someone too.
*Sources name changed on request.
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