In the village of Banderdewa, Arunachal Pradesh, right on the border with Assam, five-year-old Abo Perme was playing on the bank of the river Dikrong. He managed to grab hold of a bird and in doing so, broke its wings. While carrying it home the struggling bird flapped about and a wing jabbed Abo’s left eye. Ignorance and poverty led the family to neglect the injury and the boy lost vision in that eye.
Abo was barely a year old when both his parents fell ill and died – first his mother, followed soon after by his father. Of the seven siblings, it was his fourth sister Joram Hamba who looked after him. She herself was barely into her teens and, as per their tribe’s traditions, was already married and was a mother. She was too poor to educate Abo beyond Class 1 and he was also expected to contribute to running the household.
While growing up, there were times when Abo went to bed hungry. He worked as a daily wage labourer, earning ₹50 a day. He had to slog and save money for his essentials like shoes and clothes and was expected to look after his sister’s children. He did other odd jobs as well, working on farms, collecting wood and vegetables from the forest, and also catching fish and selling it for a living. Sometimes, when there was no rice in the house, he foraged in the forest for wild potatoes and other edible tubers and fruit. All the while, his sister and brother-in-law encouraged him to work. Today, at the age of 30, he recalls those times without resentment. “I was young and did not realise the importance of the lesson that they were trying to teach me – that I should be independent,” he says. “I can appreciate it now.”
Abo’s brother-in-law, who had a government job, was an electrician and Abo learned the skill from him, becoming a certified electrician in 2019. However, he has been working for several years as a contract labourer at the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), cultivating its (mainly rice) fields. His shift ends at 2 p.m. But his day begins at 6 a.m. when he does freelance electrical work; he resumes it in the afternoon, sometimes working till 10 or 11 p.m.
The KVK job also gave him a bonus: a partner! Mamu used to visit her brother in the veterinary department. She too had lost her parents at a young age and lived with her brother and his family. She liked Abo and they got hitched soon enough. Asked what she liked about him, she laughs shyly and says, “He works very diligently, and everyone praises him. A lot of girls had rejected him earlier. But I was lucky to find him. He keeps me well and loves me.”
The couple has three sons: Paul (13), Loku (11) and Peter (9). Abo says his only wish is to give them a good education so that they have a better life than him. They are studying in government schools because they can’t afford private schools. Still the couple hasn’t done too badly. Abo has been able to build a house very close to his workplace. He saved up and bought a Scooty to go about his freelance work. Mamu supplements their income by selling vegetables collected from the forest.
Looking back, Abo remembers how people would tease him or make comments about his eye. It would make him miserable, particularly when taunts came from friends. But time heals and resilience prevails. He says he feels his partial disability is God’s will. Without poverty, wealth has no meaning, he says, and without disabled people, the abled will not understand the importance of disability and there will be no kindness in this world. Abo states: “We all exist the way we are for a reason.”