Living With a Disability: Personal and Political Repercussions
By Piyali Roy Chowdhury
When the doctor had to use a pair of forceps at the time of my delivery, my parents knew I had an injury on the left side of my head. They could not still apprehend that I could have a disability. When I was few months old, whenever I was given a toy / plaything, I always used to extend my left hand dropping my right hand on my lap. My right side was completely affected. Hence when it was time for me to crawl, I never crawled. I used to move by dragging my buttocks on the floor. I did not have any curvature at my right sole. As all my toes in right foot are joined, I cannot move them. My uncle, who was a doctor by profession, gave me a pair of medical shoes. I walked at a later age than other children. My uncle suggested to my parents that they consult a doctor. When I was two years old, a doctor diagnosed my condition as right-sided hemiplegia.
Since my father was a Managing Director with a joint sector company, I grew up in much comfort during my childhood as well as during my school and college days. I grew up in a lot of comfort. However, all the members of my family were over-protective and this attitude made me more dependent. Whatever I could do on my own, I never did. I never used to make my bed; never had I folded the washed clothes. Before going to school, my grandmother or my mother used to feed me often. It even happened that my grandfather or my father organized my study table…Thus I became more ‘disabled.’
When I was in college, one day I protested and started availing public transport independently. I feel, for the wellbeing of the persons with disability, the family members should be careful about not being over-protective.
I have never availed of any disability benefit. Because of my slowness, throughout my student life, especially during my exams, I could never complete the answers. Hence I never scored good marks. Now I feel, if I had taken some help of a scribe, I would have secured better marks.
Over-protection and stepping in for a disabled person due to ideas regarding their (dis)abilities often prevent disabled people from developing their own skills. As I am slow in doing work, for years, my brother who is a computer professional, used to type letters for me. This greatly hampered my speed. When I got my first job, where I had to handle a computer, I found I was very slow in typing. I operate the computer with my left hand. Through regular practice, I have been able to develop typing speed to some extent now. I have never lost my desire for working hard and in learning new things.
Years passed by. When I lost my father, I was twenty three. My father left behind meager savings. There was a massive change in the family and the way we lived our lives. I learnt to do all the household work on my own. After a struggle for a couple of years, I got a job in the year 1988. In 1999, I started tutoring students privately in my house. I never considered myself as ‘disabled.’
Now I can do all sorts of work but I am a little slow. When I get tense, I become even slower. Over the years, despite the protests of the members of my family, I have learnt to cook, sweep, and mop the floor, clean utensils, and wash clothes. Today I am totally independent, although I still live with my brother.
However, disability does seem to influence the very personal life of the disabled person. When I was studying in the tenth standard, a young man, who was doing his Masters then, used to teach me the science subjects. I could feel that he developed a strong liking for me. Whenever I was sick, he used to come home and stay for long hours. I too fell in love with him. But there was always a fear in my mind about starting a relationship. So far as the household work was concerned, I knew nothing then. I got scared of getting married. If something would go wrong? I told my father that I was unable to follow his teaching and cut off all relations with him. I started feeling very depressed. I could not share my feelings with anyone. Years later, one day I was feeling awfully bad. I revealed my feelings to my brother and requested him to find out about the young man. It was a coincidence that my brother found out, he got married on that very day. I still feel that many disabled girls face such a situation in life.
Still people consider disabled girls to be gullible. About fourteen years ago, one of my past colleagues started coming to our house. One day he proposed to me for marriage. However I felt that he was more interested in the ownership of our flat and my mother’s jewelry, which she had left in my name. I felt very bad and gradually stopped maintaining a relationship with him.
[Piyali Roy Chowdhury is a woman with disability working with SANCHAR, an organization that works with disabled people in 24 Parganas (S), West Bengal.]
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