“I consider myself normal in all aspects, but society always thought that I wouldn’t become an independent woman,” says 29-year-old Sanmati Havale from Boragaon village of Karnataka’s Belgaum district.
Sanmati is affected by Scoliosis—a sideways curvature of the spine that occurs most often during the growth spurt just before puberty. This led to an uneven shoulder height, and thus began Sanmati’s battle to fight for acceptance.
“My posture was normal till Class 4, but things changed after that. Suddenly, everyone around me became unusually nice and would go the extra mile to ensure that I was feeling fine. My parents would drop me to the school every day, and my Physical Education teacher made me the captain of the sports team, which was quite unexpected!” she says.
Sanmati was curious but didn’t pay too much attention till one of the teachers from her school asked her to go to the district hospital and get a disability certificate. “Initially, I couldn’t understand what he was trying to say, and so I informed my parents.
My father accompanied me to school, and we spoke to the teacher again, and that was when I figured out that I was suffering from an impairment,” says Sanmati.
Sanmati took time to process the news and noticed that while there were people who treated her with extra care, there were many classmates who were extremely callous and would mimic her and try to bring her down.
“You won’t be able to do this, is something I’ve been hearing for years now,” she adds.
However, Sanmati realised that she was not someone who would give up easily, and while she adjusted to living with Scoliosis, she also decided that she wanted to lead an independent life and help people who were facing a similar problem. “Initially, it was difficult for me to focus, but I decided to fight for several other people like me,” she says proudly.
Sanmati completed her Diploma in Education in 2009 and started to work as a teacher in a school in the Boragaon village of Karnataka. For five years she taught mathematics, Kannada, and English to students of Class 3. Sanmati also briefly worked as a business development officer for a solar power company in Bengaluru.
“Teaching in a school is not easy, as you end up in several uncomfortable situations like students asking you about your body posture in the middle of the class. Also, standing for 60 minutes becomes difficult at times, but that never became a hurdle in my journey,” she affirms.
Later, Sanmati completed her Masters in Sociology from Karnatak University in Dharwad. Currently, she works as a teacher in a government school in Boragaonwadi village.
Today, she teaches more than 300 students every day and also makes them aware of what disability means. “The education system should make students aware of disability. Society projects disabled people as incapable of achieving anything in life,” she explains.
Sanmati also harbours a dream—she wants to help in abolishing child labour and is taking small steps towards making the dream come true.
Sanmati’s parents, Tejmati and Shripal Havale, have been huge pillars of support. Her mother says, “Right from her childhood days, I wanted Sanmati to be an independent, educated woman. Today, she has fulfilled my dream, and the entire society looks at her as a role model.”
For Sanmati, every step is a struggle because of the way society has portrayed ‘impairment.’
“There are times when conductors ask me to get down fast at the station. Many times people do not vacate the seats reserved for disabled people. During such tough times, many students of mine have helped me out by offering me the seat,” she says with a smile.
Today, Sanmati’s choices are praised by the community. “People walk up to me and apologise for the things they said when I was a child. I smile at them and ask them not to judge any human being,” says Sanmati.
Recollecting her own experience of being discriminated against, she strongly vouches for equity amongst human beings. “I was denied employment in a company in Bengaluru, because of my disability, as they wrongly believed that it would be difficult for me to commute to work. I tried to argue with them, but they refused to consider my requests, despite my credentials.”
Kudos to Sanmati for standing her ground and not becoming a prey to the ‘conservative’ thinking of the society.