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Songs of Freedom: ‘Viklangta’ or Disability

‘And just as you fall, you shall stand as well
If you falter, hold onto yourself
For when you seek strength within
The mountains promise a rendezvous’

Story by Kajal, translated from Hindustani by Janees

Songs of Freedom bring stories from women — certainly not victims, not even survivors but fighters against the patriarchal status quo with support from the organisation Shaktishalini[1].

–Sanjay Kumar, founder, pandies

Kajal is from Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. She is 24 years old and has completed her bachelors in Hindi. She is currently pursuing master’s in social work through distance education. She has found her voice in writing activist stories around the theme of gender violence and disability. She is currently working at an NGO as a special educator and wishes to fight for the specially-abled community’s right to education.

Viklangta or Disability

Is there no one who could see through my tears? Anyone who could hear the tumult my silence has put me in? Someone who could acknowledge if not accept my bare feelings? None I could talk to?

Everyone is known by their name and their profession, but my disability is my very identity. At least that’s what the whole world has always made me feel. Who am I? I shall choose to remain anonymous here just like many others who are rendered nameless owing to the ‘fact’ that they are considered ‘disabled’.

The house is filled with chirpings of joy and excitement today. Bahu (daughter-in-law) is expecting her first child. “Hey, it will be a boy for sure,” the mother-in-law remarked, “Although there is no harm if a girl child is born either…umm… all I pray is for a healthy mother and a healthy child…” But deep down the grandmother-to-be prayed for a son, “Dear Lord, I shall adorn your temple with numerous offerings if you bless this house with a son…”

The day had arrived. The entire family eagerly waited to hear of the outcome. The nurse came out of the delivery room, “Congratulations! It’s a girl! Goddess Lakshmi has blessed your household with her presence.” It seemed as if everyone in the family was struck with lightning. “Well, who can meddle with God’s affairs?” the grandmother frowned. It was coming from the same woman who was busy pampering the pregnant Bahu just a few months back. With every passing day, Bahu and the baby were being showered with taunts and disgust.

Wasn’t being born a female enough for one to be in hell, that soon the calamity of ‘disability’ struck the child. “We are being punished for our sins! God why us?! Now all life-long we have to cater to her special needs — expenses, treatment, care and God knows what all. What an awful misfortune has struck my son?” grandmother would go on uttering.

‘I’ who was de trop[2]right from the time of birth, had been disowned on many grounds by my own family. Troubled with a question – “What was my role in my plight? How was it my fault?”

As time passed by, the jibes thrown at me turned more spiteful. ‘Disabled’, ‘Lame’ and ‘Who will marry a disabled woman?’. From ‘Ton of dowry will have to be paid to get rid of this woman’ to ‘She should have died the moment she was born!’. I would yearn for someone to understand me, befriend me, and chase away my agony. It must be wonderful to be a reason for joy in someone’s life. Could I ever be one? Every night I would cry myself to sleep in painful hopes.

Since a young age, I have loved studying. I believed and still do that fulfilling a meaningful career through studies is the only way to stun them. Maybe my father and grandmother both will start loving me then. “What use is education to you?” or “Your ultimate place is the house of the man you will marry. Why waste time pursuing education?” — such taunts haunted my existence.

“Anyway, your education won’t come to save you or your parents from the humiliation of finding a boy for you.”

“Look for a boy with a disability for her or bribe a normal boy to marry her.”

“It’s time to get rid of her.”

I would keep going back to my thoughts — is there anyone who, with all their love and honestly, would move mountains for me? Just for me! Adorn a river with my name…

Amidst all the agony, I only had one person by my side – my Maa, my mother. It aches to admit that she couldn’t keep her stand firm for long, she too fell for what was being fed to her. I was a burden to her now. To my own mother. But I understand – she was not fully in command. She was never respected in that house. It must have been so tough for her to face them all, so much so that she was convinced to get rid of me at any cost. A mother is the one who loves her child unconditionally, the same mother was now cursing me for being in her life. I have come to a point in life where not a single moment passes without my blaming myself for existing. In fact, I am sure it must be karma – my mother’s sins that have put me in this state and are now haunting her in my form.

This never-ending dejection has started to make me weak… I feel weak… this mental fatigue seems to have physically manifested itself in me… my one and only support had left me. Mother tried to emotionally convince me for acquiring skills in household chores, after all that would make me a good fit for marriage. She believed I had gained enough education and needed to divert my attention to master home-making skills. One day Maa came to me and said, “I have endured so much because of you, can’t you consider my helplessness and give up on your resilience?” I wanted to ask her how she could turn a blind eye to my skills? Couldn’t she see how well I was doing at school, how extraordinarily well I was doing in the whole class?

When the one who gave birth to me has expressed dismay at my being, there remains no room for any other expectations. I must decide. I must fight this battle, alone! I have just myself to trust. I must help my own self because no one else will. That without having ‘able’ feet, I still need to stand on my own. And with this thought and courage, I set out on a journey to carve my own identity. The climb is long and arduous. It’s the fight to be. The fight for my identity– of ‘viklangta[3]’. And of leaving an imprint on this ugly society’s hypocrisy.

Million-dollar revelation — losing hope is worse than losing legs/arm. That was the first lesson. That one step of making my own decisions and here I am – on my own ‘feet’, without the debt of anyone’s support. I am self-sufficient, a burden to no one. My source of power is my soul, and souls are never ‘viklang’.

And just as you fall, you shall stand as well
If you falter, hold onto yourself
For when you seek strength within
The mountains promise a rendezvous

Is there no one who could see through my tears? Anyone who could hear the tumult my silence has put me in? Someone who could acknowledge if not accept my bare feelings. None I could talk to? It took me a long, difficult time to accept that ‘someone’ as ‘myself’ – the only one who knows my potential and who respects my struggles, who accepts this ‘disability’ and yet doesn’t let it take her down. Everyone is able and the only condition to that is one must keep moving forward with whatever resources in hand.

Don’t wait for miracles. Be your own miracle!

[1] “Establishing itself as a premier women’s organisation in India from 1987, Shaktishalini has spread out and deals with all kinds of gender based violence. A shelter home, a helpline and more than that a stunning activist passion are the hallmarks of this organisation. 

pandies and Shaktishalini – different in terms of the work they do but firmly aligned in terms of ideological beliefs and where they stand and  speak from. It goes back to 1996 when members of the theatre group went to the Shaktishalini office to research on (Dayan Hatya) witch burning for a production and got the chance to learn from the iconic leaders of Shaktishalini, Apa Shahjahan and Satya Rani Chadha. And collaborative theatre and theatre therapy goes back there. It is a mutual learning space that has survived over 25 years. Collaborative and interactive, this space creates anti-patriarchal and anti-communal street and proscenium performances and provides engaging workshop theatre with survivors of domestic and societal patriarchal violence. Many times we have sat together till late night, in small or large groups debating what constitutes violence? Or what would be gender equality in practical, real terms? These and many such questions will be raised in the stories that follow.” — Sanjay Kumar

[2] French for superfluous or unwanted

[3] Disability

Janees is an independent researcher and theatre-practitioner who has been associated with Pandies for the past six years.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

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