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“My younger sister has always looked out for me. I have been winning medals in sports”

To have a caring younger sister is a boon for a person with a disability and few know it better than Prachi Toppo (19) from the Andamans. Gitika, two years younger, was in the same mainstream school as her sister, and later, in the same class. She used to keep a watchful eye over Prachi, who was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (CP) as an infant, since she was prone to fits (seizures) that could occur at any moment.
They live with their mother Basanti Tirkey (44) in Mathura village around 30 km from Port Blair. Their father Bhukhan Toppo is a central government employee who is currently posted in Madurai, Tamil Nadu as a junior engineer in the Public Works Department. His mother lives with his family and Basanti says she was a great help in looking after her daughters when they were toddlers.
Basanti used to receive complaints from the school principal that Prachi was restless in class and was disturbing the other children. Gitika was a calming influence. The school continued to promote Prachi to the next higher class and in this way she reached 10th standard. She was provided a scribe, a student from Class 9, to write her Board exams. Prachi took Arts and Gitika, Science as their subjects for Plus Two and they completed 12th standard together. Basanti says that as Prachi grew older, and aided by medication for her seizures, she has vastly improved in her speech and mobility barring a slight weakness in her left hand.
Prachi’s life took a turn for the better when she encountered M. Bhavani. She is the medal-winning para athlete whom we featured in EGS and who was responsible for guiding so many disabled children towards sport. Bhavani invited Basanti to bring Prachi to the stadium where many other children with numerous disabilities engaged in different sports and games. Watching them, and later playing games such as volleyball with them, Prachi was drawn towards sport and got her mother to buy her balls and other sports equipment. It became a daily routine for Basanti to take Prachi to the stadium for practice. “Right now it’s the monsoon season but after the weather clears we will continue,” Basanti told us.
Prachi participated in the 21st National Para Athletic Games at Pune in March 2023. Although Bhavani and another coach accompanied Prachi and four other teammates, Basanti decided to go along. They had to self-fund the trip, but the reward came when Prachi won a gold medal in shotput and third place in running race. When the Khelo India Para Games 2023 were to take place in Delhi in December, Prachi was on the list of participants that the Andaman government would sponsor. “In the Andamans we are not used to such cold weather!” said Basanti. “Prachi’s shotput event was at 5 p.m. and the cold affected her performance. But still she got fourth place.”
Prachi likes to draw, watch TV, and spend long hours on her mobile. She manages all her daily activities by herself. Basanti is fearful of allowing her to light the stove but when she feels like eating a boiled egg, which she relishes, she cooks it on her own. She likes to order takeout, mainly vegetarian fast food although she is game to try out new cuisines.
Basanti and Bhukhan are endeavouring to make her ready to face the world. Basanti proudly says that she sends Prachi to buy things from a nearby shop and gives her money so that she can do the maths in her head: how much an item costs and how much the shopkeeper needs to return. She also gives her small amounts which she has learnt to deposit into her bank account. She has also learnt how to withdraw cash from the ATM. 
Basanti plans to enrol her daughter in the Composite Regional Centre for Skill Development, Rehabilitation and Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (CRC) at Brookshabad, Port Blair. Currently she gets ₹2500 per month from the government but a government job is what her parents are hoping to secure for her. 


Vicky Roy