When you are orphaned at a tender age and farmed out to relatives, your life will never be the same. It becomes even more unsettling if you have a disability. Yari Rebe (26) from Arunachal Pradesh was the eldest of four siblings and only 11 when her father Koniang Rebe died after the van in which he was travelling crashed. A year later, her mother Yaya Rebe succumbed to an unspecified illness. The siblings were split up and sent to different aunts.
Yari says that when she was six her limbs started weakening. “From the ages of 6 to 10, I was not able to walk by myself,” she recounts. “I attended the village school and in the initial years I went there with the support of my sister Marta.” Massaging helped her limbs gradually strengthen, although she still has some difficulty walking. She does not remember what the doctors had told her parents about the nature of her disability or what medicines they prescribed. She only knows that she stopped taking “the medicines” when she was in Class 7 or thereabouts, “because we could not afford it”. By then, both parents had died.
Koniang was involved in district politics and did not have a regular job. It was Yaya who supported the family by making and selling apop pitha out of their home. Apop is a ‘starter cake’ used in making apo or apong, a traditional rice-based alcoholic beverage. A variety of leaves with medicinal and therapeutic properties go into the making of apop.
After her parents’ death, Yari and her younger brother Abraham were sent to their father’s sister Sema in Itanagar while Marta and the youngest sibling Ana were taken in by their maternal aunt. Sema took her responsibility as an aunt seriously and kept her niece firmly in check. Since she was busy farming, Yari was put in charge of the housework. Naturally, she had no opportunity to study further. She had written her Grade 10 exams and had one paper left to clear. Abraham, however, was able to pursue his academic career.
Yari was 19 when she met Dolo Bagang, a construction worker, at a friend’s place. They exchanged phone numbers, started talking to each other, and fell in love. Dolo, who is now 35, earns daily wages and Sema was displeased about her niece’s decision to marry him and move to his village, Banderdewa. But Yari affirms that her in-laws wholly accepted her despite her locomotor disability. Her mother-in-law and Dolo’s siblings live nearby and are very supportive. “When my husband finds work, we buy rice and stock it,” says Yari. “When we run out of money, my mother-in-law always helps us out. She also pays our electricity bill.”
Speaking of her siblings, she tells us that Marta is married and has a kid, Abraham is in his final year of college, and Ana is doing a nursing course. In her spare time, after doing all the housework, Yari likes watching Arunachal music shows and Arunachal news on her mobile. Because walking is an effort she doesn’t go out much. “When I was a child I wanted to be a singer,” she reveals. She sings when she is alone and practises vocals using her mobile. “Even now, if I get an opportunity I would like to learn singing,” she says.
Yari appears to feel that her life is complete since she is married (although the couple hasn’t gone through the traditional three-day marriage ceremony called Nyeda). She and Dolo have been trying to have a baby. But she also wishes to pass that one subject she failed, write her exam through the open schooling system, finish Grade 10, complete Grade 12 and search for a job. She wishes to earn a steady income, something that would bring in a regular flow of money. It would go a long way towards easing her burden of running the house.