When our photographer Vicky Roy travelled to Arunachal Pradesh, it was Konyyang, president of the men’s wing of the All Arunachal Pradesh Divyangjan Youth Association, who gave him the addresses of persons with various disabilities. And to reach their houses in different villages, he rode pillion on the scooter of Aepo Liyak (27), who is hearing impaired.
Aepo, who was appointed treasurer of the disability association six months ago, is ever willing to help other disabled persons, especially those with locomotive disabilities, by taking them on his scooter for their personal work or job hunts. When we spoke to him he had just returned from his parents’ home after helping them sow paddy for the next harvest. They are rice farmers who live 250 km away in the mountains close to the China border. Aepo lives in Itanagar with his older sister Nanni, brother-in-law Jomoh and little nephew Tamo.
Aepo was around three years old when he developed an ear infection. “Pus came out of one ear and the doctor said the eardrum was punctured,” he says. He has lost hearing in one ear and although he has partial hearing in the other, it is distorted by a constant ringing noise. “I can’t hear anyone speaking from more than 10 feet away,” he tells us. In the village school he attended, he could not follow what the teachers were saying and depended entirely on what was written on the board. Naturally, his marks weren’t up to snuff although he did manage to complete tenth grade.
Aepo earns daily wages working on farms and construction sites. When he’s not wielding a plough or chopping wood you can find him in the forest, cutting bamboo which he weaves into baskets and other items. He fashions the cane according to their functions – huge containers for storing rice, winnows for separating paddy from husk, baskets that serve as hen coops and so on – and prices them accordingly from ₹300 to ₹2500. In the absence of full-time employment, it is through his network of friends that he secures odd jobs.
Unfortunately, Aepo is unable to listen to music because he cannot use earphones but he does watch videos on his mobile although he can’t hear them clearly (yet another instance that demonstrates the vital importance of sub-titling). We were touched when this personable young man told us rather woefully: “I have no girlfriend!”