Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, March 1, 2007

By Shamma Manzoor Raghib

The pretty girl waved her hand towards the third player in the ring, "She is on it... throw the ball girl!"

Ritu's cries went unheard while the home team lost in the last minute of their game for just 2 points! "Oh if only I could play, I could have been the best player in town!" But, she had no regrets about her lost limb. A terrible car accident just a year back took away her left hand and killed her sister. She consoled herself with the fact that she was lucky to be even alive today. No amount of sneers, or "Oh my Gods" or any kind of pity could let her self-motivation down. She kept on working on her Basketball skills with one hand and soon she was competing in local competitions.

Joyotindra Mehta is a leading software Engineer in IBM India and he is visually challenged. He had congenital blindness, but he took his life as a challenge. He went to UK on a full scholarship and is now staying 'enabled'. He says, "Disability is not a curse, but a challenge and no challenge is insurmountable." [The Hindi Business Line: The doors open to talent]

Children who are physically disabled, do not receive the quality of life they deserve. There are no accessibility options in shopping malls for those who cannot walk, no high-seats in restaurants for those who are born short/dwarf, no slides beside any staircase except for maybe the recent modern hospitals. Blind children do not get a fair education and are always repressed. Kids who have a mutated/distorted limb are considered outcasts and hence avoided. We need a major behavioral change before we can be termed as a civic citizen! As citizens, we should take into account of any disabled person whenever we start a new venture. Yet we don't!

In Bangladesh, it is a pity that we actually pity those who are disabled physically, while we avoid those who are disabled mentally. Children here need to understand that mentally disabled children are born with this defect, just as some are born with Asthma or Blindness. We teenagers from a very early age take that classmate of ours who is a bit slow at learning and continue to harass him in public, calling him names like 'stupid bot' or 'retard'. Little do we know how these comments actually further aggravate the mental health of that person. Disabled people are different, maybe a gift from God to take care of and love unconditionally. If you have a disabled sibling, take your time and energy to know more about what pleases that child and what can be done to help him/her learn the basic necessities of life.

My mom's youngest sister was mentally challenged. At the tender age of three, she had terrible typhoid and the high fever damaged parts of her brain. She could not talk ever since and could not express her feelings well. My late grandmother used to tell me how she made my aunt learn the basics of life bit by bit. And it wasn't easy. If pushed too hard, as a child my aunt used to get into a fit of rage, but it did not stop there. 30 years down the line, my aunt could do everything else we could, and she learnt to indicate her needs to us through gestures and songs. Yes! Songs! And that was a wonderful experience.

I do not want to sound like your parent since you already have two of them at home, but I think by now I have proved my point. Disability is not a curse. In fact it is a blessing in disguise. Children with mental disability have been seen to be attached to a person who tries to teach him/her quite well, and the reward you get is priceless. Try talking to your disabled classmate or try teaching your disabled sibling. Treat them like you would any other friend of yours, but with much patience and caring. Mothers do not throw away babies just because they cried too much or were unable to talk in their first 7 months, likewise, mentally disabled children should be treated like babies. As I said before, the reward that you will get is priceless- self-satisfaction at its best.

Before the torrent
By Shehtaz Huq

I'd never known true humiliation before today. Never had I known the searing, stabbing, piercing, whirlwind feeling of humiliation, at least, not the real thing, not what I was going through right now. This feeling was absolutely alien to me.

Maybe it had to do with the way everyone was looking at me now. Even the staff and the administration stared at me. They didn't say anything, they didn't move or fidget or giggle, they just stood there, staring at me with their mouths open. But I could hear them. The torrent of fierce whispering was not far off. I knew the moment I rounded the corner and dragged myself into the principal's office, the talking, the gossiping, the rumors would start. This time, there was nothing that I could do about it.

I looked at the spotless, gleaming tiled floor, and counted the odd blue ones that traced a line down the end of the corridor. Twenty-seven, I counted. Twenty-seven blue tiles. I almost giggled. Why, I don't know. It just seemed hilarious to me. The absolute misery of the situation seemed hilarious to me. Like, things were so bad, so horribly, horribly bad, that it was even funny.

Of course, things would turn out to be less funny once my parents were called to the principal's office, but that was coming later.

For now, it was only the principal's office. I expected a lot of yelling, screaming, and accusatory finger pointing. In fact, I'd prefer a public outburst. Because I could never bear it if my principal looked at me in the eye and told me, in a very sad, quaky tone, “How could you do such a thing?”

The principal's assistant ushered me into the bright, gleaming white office. The principal herself was sitting behind her desk, head buried in her hands. My mouth went dry looking at her. I almost turned around, but the assistant was right behind me. Behind him, through the frosted glass door, I could see a crowd gathering. Oh, this was going to turn ugly.

The principal looked up, avoided eye contact with me, and instead reached for a fat green file. She flipped it open, and stared at it for a long time. Her assistant interrupted her reverie with a quiet, “Well, she's here.”

The principal didn't listen. “Was the academic coordinator told?”
“Good.” The principal closed the big fat green file. “I'll wait for her. Could you give us a moment?”

The assistant turned on his heel and joined the crowd.

“I hope you understand why you're here,” she said to me. “I hope you can fully comprehend the gravity of the situation.” Before I could open my very parched mouth, the principal started again. “I don't know what to do with you. Really, I honestly have no idea. How could I? I've never seen something like this happen. People like you don't let these things happen. People like you”

She broke off and looked away. I looked at the green file.

“Do you understand what you did?”

“Yes,” I said in a very small voice.
There was an awkward silence. The principal looked at her watch. “The exams must be over by now.”
I said nothing.

“All your friends are going to be wondering what the reason for the fiasco was. And they're going to find out. How much, I don't
know. But even for your sake, I'm not keeping anything under tabs. What you didthe horrible, despicable, absolutely lowly thing that you didI cannot even put into words.” Then she screamed. “WHY?”

I wanted to scream out because of desperation! But I didn't have the guts. So I just said, “I don't know.”

“You don't know? You don't know! You come to sit for the math exam, and you just happen to have a copy of the math exam paper, and you just happened to get caught cheating, and for what reason you don't know? And what do you expect me to do with you? What do you think I should do? Should I suspend you? Should I cancel this exam? Should I excuse you because you're such a good child, such a trustworthy, dependable child? Should I let you go this one time because you might've made an honest mistake?”

The tears, for some reason, were just not coming. Inside, though, I was tearing up.

“I'm going to expel you, for sure. No doubt about that. The academic coordinator is on her way up. But that won't solve the problem. You first have to understand what you did. But do you understand?” she got up from her chair. “Look at me and tell medo you understand?”

The phone on her desk rang. She yanked it up. “What?”

A brief silence, after which she said, “Send her in,” and replaced the phone. She looked at me, not angry, not shocked, but bitterly, bitterly hurt and disappointed. “The academic supervisor is on her way.”

At that moment, the principal's assistant opened the door a crack and said, “Her mother is waiting outside.”

In his hand, he held a big shiny envelope that said 'Transfer Certificate' in bold cursive letters.

Looking at that, the first of a potential torrent of tears silently rolled down my cheek.

He glanced at me and retreated. Through the door (which he'd left ajar) I caught a glimpse of my mother, standing in a circle of gawking students.

“Call your mother in,” the principal told me, and sat down.
There was nothing more to be said.



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