Society

A first hand view

SHARING JOY AND GRIEF Jeeja Ghosh with Bappa Nag in a scene from the documentary

SHARING JOY AND GRIEF Jeeja Ghosh with Bappa Nag in a scene from the documentary  

If looks are deceptive then Jeeja Ghosh, the disability rights activist and faculty member at Kolkata’s Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy (IICP), definitely fits the bill. Fragile demeanour, short and unassuming, walking with an unusual gait because of cerebral palsy (CP) disability, this brave heart took on an airline company which had de-boarded her – ironically when she was flying to attend a conference on disability. The ensuing struggle and subsequent Supreme Court judgement paved the way for sensitisation of the airline industry to the Persons with Disabilities’ (PWD) needs and bringing the issue into public focus. She has been on forefront of PWDs rights, driving them to self-advocacy, pushing for more amenities and facilities while also motivating them to make things better not just for themselves but others too.

Bringing to fore her grit, perseverance, forthrightness and sense of humour in her documentary “I’m Jeeja”. Swati Chakroborti makes us see the story of a PWD from her perspective than others. Presented by Public Service Broadcasting Trust and Doordarshan, this short and crisp film’s first person narration through Jeeja brings to light several issues connected with the CP disabled persons, with the opening scene setting the tone of the story. Crossing the road when the signal is green, Jeeja is hassled by two persons on a bike who try to go pass her. In a contemptuous voice they wonder as to what a disabled person like her is doing on the road leading to angry exchange of words. On crossing over, Jeeja looks straight into our eyes and without rancour, says: “You can’t walk on Kolkata roads without abusing. Who can think I am also in a hurry. Firstly a woman, that too disabled and going to office. Unimaginable!”

Swati Chakraborty

Swati Chakraborty  

Countering all these imponderables, Jeeja made it good, says Swati. “Being positive and confident, she thought if women coming from poor families having very little opportunities can be successful why she couldn’t she.” Grabbing the opportunity to study in a regular school, she participated whole hog in all activities. Adjusting to the college bereft of facilities for disabled, she ran to attend classes from one building to the other besides relishing addas and socio-political discussions among friends. Wondering how she did it, Jeeja in her charming way explains, “I was out to prove to myself that with disability I could do things which others did.”

Praising her mother, family and friends for their support, she makes a special mention about IICP where she began her schooling. “My friends and peers all had different challenges including intellectual but were all treated equally. They helped me in future to respect and accept differences.”

Working with IICP for three decades, Swati says people with CP face multiple challenges though many have bright minds trapped inside disobedient bodies. “People with CP are less heard of, less visible and less understood. I wanted to voice their words through this film that shows that if opportunities are given, anyone can grow the self-confidence to overcome barriers. The film, I hope, will also change perception about disability and PWDs. At the same time, Jeeja is an inspirational story not only for PWD, but for all, to show what human courage may achieve.” Screened at Open Frame, Jadavpur and Calcutta universities, it has been selected for We Care Festival 2017.

Challenging taboos

Having known Jeeja for a long as a friend and colleague, the director describes her as vibrant, bright, witty, loving, fiery and courageous. “She is not a conformist and loves to challenge taboos. If anyone tries to abuse her or anyone else is in front of her, she doesn’t think twice about confronting that person.” Upfront about her relationships, Jeeja in the film reveals that she had a boyfriend who was not disabled. Using the term normal for him, she quips, that this made things very uneasy for many in her college.

Jeeja’s students praise her for being a good teacher and friend who made them realise that rights and responsibilities go hand in hand. Inculcating in them advocacy in a positive way, she focuses on building their self-confidence, leadership and social skills. She feels PWDs must participate in the movements of other marginalised communities including women. Wedded to the cause of environment and gender bias, her last work was a theatre performance based on Nirbhaya and initiatives in making Kolkata a better place for all. Swati concurs with this. “I think PWDs rights should not be looked at in a segregated way but in a holistic way – as a part of human rights activities.”

Gritty supporter

Refusal on the part of the mainstream to accept PWDs causes frustration and disillusionment among them. Having received a bad deal in the past, Jeeja was initially reluctant to accept Bappa Nag, a non-disabled person, who fell in love and wanted to marry her. She is now happily settled with him. Proud of her, Bappa in the film, says that having struggled throughout her life she in fact has been a great support for him.

Like a great start, the film ends on a cheerful note by Jeeja. Declaring that it is all about positive attitude, accepting ourselves and differences in others, she touches a chord when she says: “I like to mingle in the crowd, the humdrum of life. Life will go on on its own flow and we have move on. So lets go ahead. Cut it now!”

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Printable version | Aug 13, 2020 3:18:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/a-first-hand-view/article17109504.ece1

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