The mind has no limits. It is the body that is confined within its boundaries. The time when science was unable to diagnose a fetus, I was born with a disability. I have a condition, a lay man calls a spastic, in medical term Cerebral Palsy . It means that the brain and the body has some loose connections. However, my mind worked fine even though my body was not perfect. I was unable to walk normally and slurred.
How my school contributed to my freedom? There were no reservations for special kids in schools as there are now. I was lucky that Loreto House in Calcutta accepted me. However, there were reservations about my being able to cope in a normal environment. My class mate happily helped me carry my bag and books .The teachers and my class mates were responsible for my integration. My speech was never the focus, nor was my slow walking a problem. Luckily I could climb without much effort. Anyway, doctors recommended it. Ma was happy even though I wasn’t about my climbing to second floor every day. I was happy in school although I knew I was different. In school I learnt to have faith in my abilities and not consider my disability.
What family can do, no one else can. Here, my Nani played a big role. She constantly let me do things on my own. When in Bombay for a short period, she would make me walk half way to school. She refused to shield me and also taught me to trust GOD. This exposure made me fully equipped to take on the world which discriminated against the challenged. That was the world I grew up in. My school friend Sonia was always my sounding board. Whenever I doubted she was always ready to push me to my limits ..
Find your strength in your weakness. I wanted to teach the disabled. I had learnt the hard way and felt that my experience could be their guide. I soon learnt that I was indeed lucky. After training as a special educator, teaching became my passion. I not only trained for mentally challenged and multiple disabilities but also acquired post graduate degree in audiology which equipped me to teach the Hearing Impaired.
Marriage, sexuality are disabled. The word marriage crept cropping up when I was eighteen. I refused to get married. My reason was simple. When the family finds it difficult to accept disability, then how would another family who has never known me accept me? l wanted life with self- respect and wanted to be treated with respected . I knew I had the capacity to make a difference in the world of the disabled. I broke the tradition and made a choice.
This did not mean that I did not find love or I did not have a relationship. In India sexuality is a taboo. I was not only living a happy life with a partner outside the framework of marriage; I was teaching sexuality to the teachers who dealt with adult disable persons. I was commissioned to produce a guide book on sex for the disabled on behalf of IGNU .I had enough self -confidence to lead a normal life and was FREE from the shackles of society. It was not before I was known as a counselor to the challenged on all sexual issues. Sex was not wrong was my motto.
Should the society accept me – a woman with disability? In the late nineties, I moved to Delhi. My aim was to change the perception of society for women with disability. Living independently, I would prove to be a role model. Meanwhile Delhi was the center where laws could be formulated. I joined the disability movement and soon gained recognition as an activist. The disability law was being formulated. I became one of the core members of the group. It was a dream come true.
A disabled independent woman? Living on one’s own has its own dangers. Of course, there was a danger of being abused. But, then, are normal girls not in danger? My conviction to live independently came from books. I was influenced by the rights and equality given to women and disabled in the western nations. A book which inspired me was Jonathan Seagull. Fear? Of course, I feared the unknown. I was out of the safety net of my joint family. But I was aware that I was treading a new path in India.
Conviction has freedom as destination. My work with disability became known. I was soon approached by Centre for Advocacy and Research. They were looking for a project head who would examine the media’s effect on disability. Where did the constant image of the perfect body leave someone who could never have a perfect body? Since I loved challenges I took up the post. I learnt new skills while on the job. I had no knowledge of media research nor commuters. I was forced to speak on public platform with the media as my audience. The first time I was so scared that I could not speak for a good five minutes.
I was able to complete four studies which was path breaking in India related to the media’s impact on the disabled. During this period, I caught the media’s fancy. I Have a Dream, a document made for Doordharshan was filmed. My views on sex education, religion and marriage was telecasted .A few newspaper also carried my story on disability and being a women living independently.
Social taboos were broken and freedom achieved from outside as well as within.
My current status – Single, carefree, happy and yes, independent.