Twenty-two-year-old differently-abled Rekha Kumari narrates how her life turned around.

Some nine years or so ago, life was a pit of despair. I was lonely, diffident and hopeless. I was deprived of my most basic rights of education and a natural childhood. I was dependent on my little sister for the easiest of tasks, who in turn suffered greatly, bearing the burdens of a differently-abled sister. But then, things turned around, and suddenly.

In 2004, members of World Vision identified me, a young girl affected by Polio, living in a cramped slum in New Delhi, and dropped by my house to say “hello”. They coaxed me to speak up, and I naturally broke down in front of them, laying down all the ache and hurt of years together. They offered me a small token amount that I invested in a wheel chair and a sewing machine. That apart, they resumed my schooling and funded it entirely. I gathered courage and started sewing clothes for people in and around; besides empowering me, it gave me a minimal but certain, financial security.

Last year, on December 5, I was nominated, through World Vision, as the National Convener to helm a committee of 11 children at the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York. And I wasn’t surprised, because over the years I had gained the confidence and courage to express and ask. This translated into a confidence that I will be able to put forth concerns of others like me at the meeting.

Demanding inclusion

Every moment of my trip to New York and back will perhaps be etched in my memory forever. The only glitch I had was on the flight from India to New York, because I was not able to stretch my legs due to the lack of leg space on the air craft, and that turned out to be quite painful. But the instant we reached there, I put everything behind and focused solely on the opportunity I had, of fighting for the rights of my sisters and brothers back in India, who had pinned their hopes on me.

At the meeting on September 29, this year, the 11 of us specifically raised concerns about the lack and necessity of inclusivity in our lives. We told them how much we’d like for schools in India to have facilities for the benefit of people like us. We don’t want to be treated differently; we don’t want to go to special schools; we want to co-exist with the rest of the world and understand them and would like for them to understand us. For instance, how lovely it would have been if that aircraft that we had flown in, had a specific facility for me to be able to stretch my legs and travel comfortably.

We insisted that while crafting the agenda for the following year, our needs must be kept at the forefront, and must be designed in a way that empowers us to avail basic rights like education, healthcare and employment, and not be left to merely exist and a burden to our families.

The committee at the assembly, thankfully, empathised with us, and has promised to do the needful. And so impressed were they with me, that they said, “Here is another Indira Gandhi in the making!”

(Rekha Kumari was nominated to represent the National Forum of Children with Disabilities, as the National Convener, at the United Nations General Assembly, this year.)

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