International Disability Awareness Week will run from the 3rd to 9th December this year. It is a week to annihilate the barriers on the pathway to success of the disabled.
It is a week of celebrating abilities. Many events are held worldwide on this eve to celebrate the achievements and contributions of people with disability; to raise awareness about the importance of their inclusion in society and to promote their well being.
However, the irony in the world celebrating the disabled is reflected in many foetuses aborted due to discovery of their “flaws” on prenatal testing.
The dark truth is that while we celebrate life of all “lives”, beautiful souls get deprived of the chance to grace the world with their presence; they are not given the mere chance to discover their dreams.
According to a study in Pakistan, “Experiences of parents with a child with Down syndrome in Pakistan and their views on termination of pregnancy” - mothers conveyed that they not only experienced a lack of support from relatives but had relatives who labelled their child with Down syndrome as “mad” or “one with bad shadow”. The study also cites the heart-breaking testimonies of mothers, which include:
“(My) brother said “you should have had testing in pregnancy and had an abortion.”
“……………..only yesterday my mother-in-law said “when will he die and we will be rid of him?”
A mother of two said, “My relatives think my child is bad and that perhaps they will be touched by the child’s bad shadow and then their children will be like that.”
“My in-laws said that I was being punished for my sins. My parents didn’t want me; my husband ran away. My parents said “leave the girls and we will take you in”. His (husband’s) family said, “Did you give birth to these disabled girls for us? Send them to some orphanage and get married to someone else.
So, here is my letter to the future mothers; it is not all gloom and doom, give your baby a chance to embrace the world and achieve its dreams. Dear mom, when a foetus is 120 days old, it has a soul - a soul of its own - which yearns to meet its mother. Therefore, according to ruling of Islamic Fiqh Committee, after the soul has been breathed into the foetus, it is considered to be a person, who must be protected.
Dear future moms, their disability in no way diminishes their ability; let me walk you through the stories of lives that are a testament to this notion-Meet Alo Akhter from Dalpaati Slum. Since a baby she suffered from a disability in her legs. Her husband left her at a crucial time while she was pregnant. However against all the odds, she fights back to give her unborn a good life. Her disability has in no way crippled her ability. From afternoon to night, she works each day in a shop selling cakes and boiled eggs. She puts in her best endeavours to secure a future for her unborn and is a great inspiration among her community. (“Against the odds”, Daily Star, November 23, 2017).
Dear future moms, I assure you, this is just one of the many success stories. “Hope against Despair,” a recent report by Save the Children, highlights the stories of how disabled children can fly high and reach the sky. Let me tell you about Parul - the Golden Girl, who had been an incessant agony for her family, being born with an intellectual disability. Her relatives called her “mad” while her father quarrelled with her mother for birthing her.
However, now Parul’s mother proudly says that, “Once I was known as mother of a mad child, but now they know me as a mother of a girl who brought gold.” Parul’s life had turned over a new leaf because of the support she received from a local NGO called Bangladesh Protibondhi Forum (BPF). BPF had encouraged Parul to pursue swimming and helped her build her endurance in the local pond. Soon she started off with participating at local competitions and in 2011 ended up as the proud recipient of a bronze medal at Greece Special Olympics. However, Parul the Golden girl was not done just yet; she won two gold medals in 2013 and another one in 2015. Parul is a perfect epitome of the fact that disability is not a curse. All we need to do is give them the tools to hone their skill sets, and they can flourish and achieve all the success.
Shamima’s story is also no different. With just a few weeks of training provided by the Centre for Services and Information on Disability (CSID), her life changed. Her mother too, was trained by the NGO so that she could cater to her child’s needs. Shamima says, “I came to learn about concepts like body boundary which helped me to recognise indecent advances.” She expressed how delightful she is about doings things all by herself, having been trained. Her final words were, “Children with disabilities need an example before them to draw courage and chase their dreams. I want to set that example for them.”
So, dear future moms, do not be disheartened. Let the advancing world rekindle your disappointed heart with hope; hope that your child can live a life of bliss even if s/he happens to have a disability. The road may seem long but you need to be strong. Without a supportive husband and relatives, things might be more challenging; but please hold on. I assure you, no matter how hard things get, the moment your baby flashes a smile at you, all your grimaces will disappear; you will laugh from joy when you see it play with its ten little fingers holding a rattle. If your baby has less than ten, you will smile with greater pride, when you see it playing with its rattle; for you will see that your baby is no less able even when disable. Tell your child, “You are beautiful beyond doubt, with all imperfections, because you were created that way.”
I assure you that everything will get better when your baby will snuggle in your arms. Dear mom, you can give them the wings for the flight and they will reach sky high.
The writer is a Researcher at Bangladesh Institute of Legal and International Affairs, (BILIA)