Meet India's Favorite Hip Hop Dancer, He Has No Legs

Vinod Thakur on a dance competition TV show — Photo: Shimul Hossain screenshot
Vinod Thakur on a dance competition TV show — Photo: Shimul Hossain screenshot
Jasvinder Sehgal

NEW DELHI — Pramod, 21, contracted polio when he was a child, but that isn’t stopping him from learning how to dance.

He goes to the New Delhi dance and music academy called Artist Mahavidyalaya, where fees are waived for students with disabilities and those who don’t have the means to pay, says academy co-founder Krishna Basumatary.

“People think that I’m a handicapped person who can’t do anything with my life,” says Pramod. “They’re full of negative opinions while I’m a proud physically impaired person. I’m turning my weakness into a strength. To dance well, one should first have a strong heart — the legs come afterwards.”

Academy founder Vinod Thakur is also disabled, Pramod says, but “he demonstrates dancing steps to us by using his strong hands.”

Thakur, in fact, was born without legs. “My family used to worry a lot about my future,” Thakur says. “But if God doesn’t give you everything, then he gives you some special gifts. All you need to do is find them.”

Thakur’s passion for dance started when he was a child. He was working as a mobile phone repair man, and his friends persuaded him to join a TV talent show, which changed his life dramatically. He made it to the semi-final as expand=1] a contestant on India’s Got Talent in 2010, and since then he’s become known as the “legless break dancer.”

“I never thought of myself as a limbless person,” he says. “I use my hands as my legs. Earlier, I was very interested in sports, but I slowly became interested in dancing. I have also taken part in reality shows in places like South Korea and Taiwan.”

He became famous overnight and was headline news in newspapers and on news channels across the country. In 2013, he founded this dance academy to teach other disabled students. It’s where he met his wife, Raksha, who is also a dancer. The two are now featured on a dance-related reality TV show.

“I don’t remember how this love story started, but I met him for the first time in his dance academy,” Raksha says. “He was very popular on TV, and at that time I was also a big fan. I joined his academy to learn how to dance. During the training, I saw that he wasn’t dependent on anyone, but rather he takes care of the rest of the trainees at the academy. I fell in love with his caring nature.”

An Indian private TV station heard about the couple’s story and organized a live broadcast of their wedding celebration. To their surprise, all their family members were there to offer their blessings. Inititally, both sets of parents were against their tying the knot.

“Wherever he goes, I always go with him,” Raksha says. “I never allow him to go anywhere without me.”

Her husband jokes, “This is what you call real love. She doesn’t even allow me to go the bathroom alone!”

Of the 80 students at the dance academy today, about 20 are disabled, Thakur says. “I have established a trust called The Indian Disabled Talent Hunt Trust to help disabled children in any way possible. I don’t call them disabled, but children with special abilities.”

Every day, new students come here to learn hip hop and Western-style dancing. Chaitnya, 14, dreams of becoming a dancer one day. “I have seen them dancing,” she says. “I love their dancing so I want to learn from them.”

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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