In the state of Arunachal Pradesh, where awareness of disability is dismally low, two young women with locomotor disabilities have struck a path towards independence and are attempting to change the lives of other disabled persons. They are Gyamar Soni (30) and Kipa Yagi (27) from Itanagar who recently took over as the secretary and the president of the All Arunachal Pradesh Divyangjan Youth Association.
Yagi’s parents are farmers who moved to Itanagar only around nine years ago. When she was eight she fell ill and was bedridden for a year. Someone suggested to her father that he consult doctors in a hospital in Itanagar. They said she had bone tuberculosis. The couple could ill afford the medicines their daughter needed. Yagi stayed with a relative in Itanagar for a year and a half to get treated. With the help of medicines and physiotherapy she was able to walk again, and her condition gradually improved. “I can do everything by myself now,” she says. “I can’t lift heavy objects, though, like a full bucket of water.”
Yagi studied in a government school and has completed her B.A. She has two younger brothers and three younger sisters. Her mother is a vegetable seller and they all live in a house bought with the help of her relatives. Yagi tried to find a job and also appeared for an interview but was unsuccessful. A year ago, with her parents’ financial assistance, she started a small shop selling items like soft drinks, ice-cream and paan masala. It is a 10-minute walk from her house and she runs it from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with a one-hour break for lunch.
Soni’s is a unique story, which is best stated in her own words: “I got paralysis when I was around 10 years old. My left hand and entire left side would not move and I was 80 to 90 per cent disabled. My father was in the police force. Both my parents were Hindu and they tried every method to cure me, performing poojas, trying out different medicines and massages. I was so weak they thought I would die. When everything failed, as the last option, I started praying to Jesus Christ. Slowly I regained my strength and now I have only 15 to 20 per cent disability. I became a Christian.”
As is commonly practised in that state where girls get married early to older men, Soni was married in 2009 at the age of 16 to a graduate, just after she had finished high school. Her husband is a teacher who got a job in another district after their daughter was born in 2011. Soni manages the house on her own, besides running a small grocery shop. Her daughter is in Class 7 staying in the school hostel. Soni continued studying and completed her 12th standard through open schooling in 2013, when her first son was born. She had her second son in 2017 and says she plans to admit her older boy in hostel.
Although it is difficult to manage the house, kids and shop, Soni has wider ambitions. She would like to “go into a line of business” but she is equally keen to work in the social sector. Last month she had her hands full, helping organise the annual Umang Festival, a weeklong event for persons with disabilities (PwD) from across the state. They play games and sports such as musical chairs, badminton and blind cricket, sample local cuisine at food stalls, and take part in literary and cultural activities.
Soni reminds us repeatedly that she has just taken over as secretary of the association and has much work to do. She has been travelling to other districts, meeting PwDs, informing them about their rights, helping them find solutions to their medical issues and suggesting ways to handle their disabilities. When asked about her own future she says, “I am not sure whether I will go into business or social work. I will follow the path god has chosen for me, whatever it may be.”