Pushpa Singh, a 26-year-old girl from a small village in Uttar Pradesh, has been physically disabled since birth. Today, she has been elected to the Block Development Council (BDC) in her area. This is her story.
She is educated, independent and her outlook is progressive. In short, she is your average city girl from a well-heeled family, who has had a liberal upbringing, right? Wrong. Pushpa Singh, 26, belongs to Mongala, a small village in Shravasti, a backward district in Uttar Pradesh, is one of six siblings, and has been physically disabled since birth.
Of course, this young woman has broken all stereotypes and overcome tough challenges to not just make a place for herself in the professional world – as a computer teacher in a local college – but she has recently been elected to the Block Development Council (BDC) in her area. Needless to say, her being voted to power in an otherwise patriarchal hinterland, where caste politics dominates, will definitely change the general perception about physically disabled people and expand their political participation.
At first glance, Singh looks like any other young woman her age, dressed in a smart traditional ‘salwar kameez’. It’s upon looking closely that one realises that both her hands, visible only slightly through the long sleeves of her ‘kameez’, are crippled.
Her fingers and palms are so deformed that it’s nearly impossible for her to hold anything. But, as if on cue, her mobile phone rings and while she struggles a little, she manages to reach for it, balances the device in both hands and within seconds is on her WhatsApp call.
Her younger sister Mithilesh, who is doing her engineering from Bahraich, looks on smilingly and says – “Pushpa does all her daily chores like brushing, bathing, dressing, ironing….on her own. We are always there for her when she needs us.”
Building the confidence to face the world on her own has not been easy for this new BDC member,but the determination to prove everyone wrong and quality education have been the change-makers in her life. In fact, education has been the true game changer for her. Though she did her primary education in the village itself she moved to Bahraich for higher studies. “I was just 10 when my parents, for the sake of better educational prospects, sent me to stay with my paternal aunt, Gayatri, in Bahraich, which is some 55-odd kilometres from our village. Since then, I have stayed with them and travel back home during the holidays,” says Singh, who has been working as a computer teacher at the Kamla Nehru Inter College in Bahraich for the past three years. Her dedicated approach resulted in her earning two professional degrees – Bachelor in Education and MSc in Computer Science.
Through her growing up years, she managed to do well despite her disability and has gone on to achieve the unthinkable – a place on the BDC.
Credit: Kulsum Mustafa\WFS
Marvel at her most recent achievement and she gives full credit to her family, especially her mother, who taught her to live life to the fullest, and her father, Bhawani Singh, a former ‘pradhan’.
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“Along with my education, it has been their staunch support that is largely responsible for my victory in the BDC elections,” she says. Singh received 486 out of a total of 1,400 votes polled. She edged out seven candidates to emerge on top.
Did her obvious ‘problem’ not deter people from choosing her to represent them on such an important platform? Instead of Singh, it’s Leelawati, one of her many supporters from a schedule caste family in Mongala, who answers the question, “We voted for her and not the contestant from our caste simply because she is a fighter, who has fought against all odds, to prove herself. We are sure that she will fight for us, too.” Yes, Singh is definitely a spirited youngster eager to not let anything come in her way.
“My deformity was detected at the foetal stage but my parents, especially my mother, refused to go in for medical termination of pregnancy. She has stood by me like a rock and taught me never to bow down. I am raring to work for the people in my new capacity,” she says, playfully twirling her mother’s sari ‘pallu’.
Although she is thrilled at her win she does admit that she hardly did any campaigning. “My family campaigned on my behalf. People picked me to usher in development into the area for two reasons. Firstly, I have the benefit of good education, which is necessary for a progressive outlook and developing proper understanding of the various government schemes. Secondly, I can always look towards my father for expert guidance. He has done a lot of work, irrespective of caste issues, which are very big around here. It’s something that I plan to continue with,” she elaborates.
Singh’s committed work ethic has won her many well-wishers.
“She is never one to ask for special privileges; she never even told us that she was contesting. It was when she returned with a box of sweets that we learnt of her victory,” remarks Manish Sharma, principal of Kamla Nehru Inter College, where she is employed. All praise for her good work he recalls how she had impressed the job interview panel with her knowledge. What amazed them was a flawless demonstration of operating the computer with her feet. “She seemed devoted and earnest so we did not think twice before selecting her,” he says.
Does Singh realise her victory in the BDC will actually expand the scope of political participation for the physically disabled, particularly women?
“Frankly, the impact has yet to sink in. I have always keenly participated in social upliftment work but now is my chance to be more focused and chalk out a definitive political and growth agenda,” she shares candidly, adding that as a grassroots leader, her focus is going to be on girls’ education, the community’s access to quality healthcare and equal opportunities for the disabled. Surely, this last issue has to be the closest to her heart. After all, discrimination generally marks the everyday life of persons with disability. Has she been at the receiving end of insensitive attitudes so far? “Not really. I have been among the lucky few. People have always come forward to help me. My education has given me an upper hand and my parents and friends have always been by my side,” she says.
Incidentally, Singh had moved to state capital, Lucknow, for nearly a year to complete her B.Ed training where her roommates helped her at every step. Asking for favourable treatment has never been her outlook. “Even when I go for an exam, I ask for no favours, only a bench instead of a table to write on. I put my answer sheet on the bench and write my paper,” she says. Has there been any instance when she felt she was totally on her own?
“Yes, once. It was when I wanted to learn computers like my siblings,” she recalls, “There was a big silence on this from my family, which, till that point, had never let me feel I was any different from the others. Though I was hurt I quietly got the form anyway.” Within a week of joining the course Singh had proved everyone wrong.
After she was born her parents had consulted several doctors to see if she could get better. They were told that surgery after she turned 18 was likely to help. “But I am happy the way I am. I do not want to go in for surgery. I do not want to waste any time on that. There is nothing that I can’t do.”
While the Persons with Disability (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 has been in place to provide for proper education, employment, social security, its implementation leaves a lot to be desired. It’s trend setters like Singh who stand to make a real difference.