We met like stories at the crossroad of multiple couplets within metres riddled with digressions creating a space where the multifarious ‘other’ exists complementing our daily survival. There are days when these stories torture our perceptions inviting the ‘other’ to relegate our circadian roles to a sweet slumber. And today as I met my stories, rippling on the vibe of the multifarious ‘other’, my eyes found new sights and my story led me to those corners of the Mohun Bagan stadium where mothers, smelling of ragged cotton of their sarees were engaged in narrating their versions of the reality among themselves, of the reality which perhaps circumvented mine too. And so we met like stories at the crossroad of our reality as I stepped into the Mohun Bagan ground as a volunteer where they sat, emerged in the couplets of their shared realities, accompanied by their children participating in the State Level Sports for Persons with Disabilities organized by Paschimbanga Rajya Pratibandhi Sammilani (PRPS ) on 15th of February, 2017.
‘I’m here because my son loves to play sports,’ said Sati Shau, mother of 11 year old Bibek who became one of the winners of shotput.‘ His father works in someone else’s field and I work there too,’ she narrated. ‘He has some mental illness; can’t remember anything.’ Sati’s words boiling in ignorance hurt my shadow as I sat on the pale grass to listen to their stories. She has her son admitted to a school for children with disabilities and sends him to a school for ‘normal’ (‘neurotypical’ to be appropriate ) children. Dreams they have none. ‘I want to work,’ Bibek answered upon being asked of his goals for the future. An undiagnosed kid whose parents can hardly spare a few coins for their own luxury and who, according to his own mother ‘can’t remember anything’ perhaps knows the golden rule of poverty: you have to work… you have to earn. The couple came to participate because the teachers of Bibek’s school told them to, perhaps to some extent following it as a discipline. Nightmares would have been easier to imagine when more such stories met me.
‘He can never work because of his hands,’ Sapia Begum didn’t gulp down her pain. Rather, it was as normal for her as the existence of her 10 year old elder son, Sahabuddin who has upper body disability (in his hands). ‘He plays football and cricket as well,’ she beams. For Sahabuddin, a future brimming with dreams is unnatural like his hands. He gives a blank look when I ask him what he wants to be when he grows up. Sapia’s husband, who works in a biscuit factory, spends most of his hard earned money sending Sahabuddin to primary school and school for people with disability.
Baby Malik, mother of 10.5 year old Ankush Malik, resident of Kanaipur,Bashai, Dharmatala was voluble of her struggle. Ankush, like many others is again an undiagnosed child whose mother knows there is some problem in his head but is not aware of his exact problem. He goes to both primary schools and schools for children with disability because, according to his mother Baby, ‘they only teach Bangla alphabets at the school for children with disabilities. I want him to learn more.’ Ignored by her husband, Baby who has passed Madhyamik takes care of Ankush and his siblings paying for his operations and lofty medical bills on her own.
The older ones I came across offered more versions to the event. Sagarika Changdar, an 18 year old cancer survivor had her right leg amputated admits she came to participate in the event at her father’s behest. Winning the race which allows the use of crutch she expressed, she wanted to study for her higher secondary examinations in March and was not eager to participate at all. Sagarika hails from a peasant family of Garhbeta, West Medinipore. ‘My son loves dance but we don’t have that exposure,’ Soma Rabidas, mother of 11 year old Tapas Rabidas expressed with agony. ‘Please help us.’ Her son, like other participants from the rural areas, belongs to those undiagnosed children who are pushed into an open category of mental illness by schools for children with disability.
Working for more than nearly three decades, Paschimbanga Rajya Pratibandhi Sammilani has been successful enough to reach out to various nooks and corners of West Bengal and connect to these schools. The event for these children is a festival. Their problem is not ‘disability’ but rather it is their economic condition and their lack of sensitization which captivates them in a dream of hopelessness. ‘I love playing. I participate in the competitions where my school asks me to,’ says Balaram Hazra, a young partially blind participant. ‘I don’t know how to participate elsewhere.’
Completely dependent on the coordination of schools and surviving on a rarefying financial resource, the participants from rural areas and their parents are left in a loop. Undiagnosed and ignored. This event for them is a breath of fresh air which blows away the rancid memories of their lives and for one day, they meet others like them and again different from them, trapped in the maze of social malice.
‘Kautilya in his Arthasastra had provisions for persons with disabilities,’ explains Amartyalok Banerjee of PRPS. ‘At a time when China and Greece were throwing babies with disabilities off the cliffs, Kautilya talked of giving the position of the king’s personal servant to people with hearing impairment. It was so calculating of him. The servant had no option to leak the words exchanged among the king and his courtiers because he couldn’t hear. Women with disabilities too had job opportunities. It is so unfortunate that ‘go to community based rehabilitation centres’ are not even concerned of these ways of inclusion now.’
It’s more than beyond just being unfortunate… it’s tragic!! An initiative which often gets the epithet of a compulsion perhaps points the finger at the society where lack of fund and human resources have made the life of these persons with disabilities, a compulsion. Their dreams are spread across in their subconscious and conscious minds, some giving a shape and some hopelessly surviving on the coordination of the schools. We boast of India’s exemplary performances in Rio Paralympics 2016 while thousands of children are shunned away from participation for the dearth of finance and coordination. ‘Help us,’ my words felt the desperate frequency of their voices.
I met the reality who came to me as stories, as narrations from the dedicated mothers I met. They have not rejected their children because of their disabilities. They earn to help them survive. While we muss our heads wondering agencies who can help us, they remain hopeful assuring us they will coordinate. In the event graced by some eminent personalities, the stories came to me. It’s not just the responsibility of PRPS alone. It’s our responsibility to pull this off together… the fight initiated long back to help these families their due place in the society.
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About the Author
Aparajita Dutta is a writer, translator, social activist and a research scholar. She is the contributing author of Tell Me a Story, published by Penguin India. She has written for other books and magazines as well. Her interests are gender rights, football, food and travel. Samples of her writing can be found in her blog : www.crystallasia.wordpress.com