Welcome to our section where we bring you stories of and conversations with inspirational women who have changed lives and given back to the community. Today, I am joined by Shivani Dhillon—part of the Down Syndrome Support Group India (a Facebook support group) & formerly a news presenter at the BBC. She talks about life as a journalist, motherhood, helping parents with special needs children and spreading awareness about Down Syndrome.
A few snippets from our conversation here
Adarsh: Hi Shivani. Thank you for being with us today.
Shivani: Thank you, Adarsh. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Adarsh: To start things off, you began working at the age of 19. Tell us a little about that experience. In retrospect, do you feel it was a bit too early?
Shivani: Well, it happened purely by chance. I was in the middle of my graduation in 1999 & Zee News was looking for news anchors to join their team. Being in news was a respectable job & back then, you didn’t need a degree in Mass Communication. I learnt so much on the job! I also met so many wonderful people who helped me grow & progress in my career. Then I joined Aaj Tak which was just starting out & was more open to doing new programmes, especially in metros. There were long hours & late-night shifts, which were fun but also tiring. I decided to take a break & move to the UK to pursue my Masters, where I had the wonderful opportunity to work with the BBC.
Adarsh: What made you decide to quit the BBC?
Shivani: I was with them for 5 years when I got married & had my first child Aviraj. I’d been selected to produce two documentaries (one of which was nominated for an Asia Pacific Award) when my son Aviraj was diagnosed with a severe skin condition. I had to travel a lot due to work. I realised that he needed me & it was hard for me to offer him the best care while working full-time. So, I went back, finished the documentary & put down my papers.
Adarsh: So, what led to the decision to move back to India?
Shivani: Soon after, we had our second child Shreya, who was born with Down Syndrome. As parents, we were trying hard to understand what the diagnosis was, what to expect & how best to take care of her. As the years progressed, we realised that she was only talking to the three of us in the family & socialising in the UK happened only on the weekends. Contrasting this to India, where one is always surrounded by people, we decided to move back. We live in a joint family setup which has been a great boon for Shreya’s overall development—we saw her interact with more people & even her speech improved.
Adarsh: That’s great to hear! Tell us a little about how the early days in India were after you moved back, especially regarding awareness about Down Syndrome.
Shivani: What was challenging for us as parents was that we were thrown into the deep end when it came to awareness. Back then, there were hardly any online platforms in India to connect or seek information on. I spoke to other parents & discovered that we were all facing the same issues. We all needed help, support & the right information. This is what led me to create the online Facebook group Down Syndrome Support Group India for “fellow travellers”, as I like to call them. Recently, I also started Samvid – Stories & Beyond where I work with children & young adults with intellectual disabilities as a storyteller. Stories, I realised, have helped them immensely with behaviour issues & understanding of their emotions.
Adarsh: Fantastic! One thing that our audience is interested in knowing—how has the impact been on you personally?
Shivani: Personally, I’ve seen myself change 360°. I’ve become humbler, more accepting & what I considered trivial earlier brings me immense joy now. Shreya is the one who keeps us going as a family—she’s so affectionate, pure & she has no malice in her heart—she has pushed me to connect to something higher. The other day, she asked me the meaning of her name & I was thrilled that she asked that question! With her, I take one day at a time, for no matter what we plan in our lives, there is always a better plan already in place for us, we just don’t know it yet!
All images used are the sole property of Shivani Dhillon and cannot be used without prior permission