Wazira Bi, a 38 year old woman in Jara Wali Gali, Mendhar block, Poonch district, Jammu lives with one leg, the other one having been amputated when she was only 16 years old. She has lost the use of one hand also. She painfully recalls that as an eight-year old girl, how an unnamed illness took hold of her, playing itself out over several years and ultimately resulting in her present affliction.
She remembers it all began after something she ate at a dinner outside with her Uncle. The prolonged illness that followed debilitated her and ultimately led to her being disabled. It sapped her and her entire family of their energy and resources. Her father was forced to sell his fields and cattle for her treatment at the hospital in Jammu but to no avail. As she remembers, “Things got worse with each passing day and we were even forced to ask for donations.”
In sheer desperation, the family turned to Hazrat Babaji Lakhi, an ascetic and faith healer in the area. Misty-eyed, she recalls how his cure seemed to work well and remembers with joy how she actually walked back after the treatment from his place. Indeed she kept fine health but only for a while. Tragedy struck, dealing a crushing blow to this young girl already struggling with hardship in her life. Her mother died, leaving her quiet bereft and the grief consumed Wazira Bi. The old illness surfaced again, this time with a vengeance. She lapsed into coma, and much to her family’s anguish, remained in this state for three long months. Hazrat Babaji Lakhi refused to treat her this time around. He was angry that she had flouted his strict directions not to attend funerals or be in proximity to a dead body. The family was left with no choice but to go back to the hospital with the hope that this time round she would get well. Sadly though, her condition worsened and in 1994, the doctors had to take the hard decision to amputate her leg. Wazira Bi felt as if her world had come crashing down.
Life lay before her but amidst her sorrow the young girl knew that she had to pick up the pieces. Wazira Bi had learned knitting some time ago. She took this up again and within a year completed her internship in 1995 at the Social Welfare Department in a place called Surankote. However her travails were far from over. In 1995, her father passed away, leaving the young girl, just 18 years old – alone in the world. Life had been harsh and the onslaught of sickness, of diminishing resources and facing death of close family -was relentless.
Despite her tragedy, she did not give up and completed her internship in embroidery as well in 1996. She knew she needed to earn. Her monthly disability pension fetched her only Rs. 60 per month and so she picked up a number of odd jobs. She struggled in this way till 2002, when the local MLA Javed Ahmed Rana became aware of her case.Moved by her situation, he helped her to join an NGO, Rahat Charitable & Social Welfare Foundation at Mendhar. Wazira Bi got a job at their Centre to teach girls embroidery, knitting and sewing. She notes with a sense of pride, “When I joined, none of the girls knew how to use the sewing machine. Today they all know.” Life had vastly improved and Wazira Bi got married in 2007. But sadly her married life turned out to be a troubled one. Her husband was an alcoholic and after bearing with his drunken bouts and misbehavior for as long as it was bearable, she took the hard decision to file for divorce just one year later. Her troubles however did not cease. There was a change of guard at the NGO in 2011 and things went downhill. Unfortunately the Centre had to be closed down, leaving Wazira Bi without a job.
What has been striking is that despite the hard life, despite the personal and professional travails and despite life dealing her a blow over and over again, Wazira Bi’s spirit had become resolute. Her struggles led her to have faith in herself, to develop an unshakable confidence that grew out of an inner resilience, a quiet peace.Despite the earth having shifted from under her feet – she could cope every time. She has been able to find ways to remain occupied, earn a living and carve a life for herself. Says Wazira Bi with a sparkling smile that belies the trauma she has gone through, “Even though I am disabled, I earn my living because of my creativity and capability.” She believes that to earn one’s livelihood and lead an independent life is within reach of all – despite all odds. This is her life’s message to others who suffer on account of disability.
(The author is a Student of the Law School, University of Jammu)