Fighting Disability: Phoolwati’s Story Highlights Challenges For Millions Like Her In India

Posted on July 22, 2015 in Disability Rights, Society, Taboos

By Impuri Ngayawon, World Vision India: 

The first thing you can notice clearly about Phoolwati is her scoliosis that defines her as a person with disability. On closer acquaintance she is a vibrant and hard working lady whose spirit never bended to societal pressure and challenges to achieve what she wants for her life. As we continue to rejoice in the success of Ira Singhal, the 2015 IAS topper, let us look into what makes or breaks many to become the next Ira Singhal.

phoolwati
Image source: Daniel Mung

20 year old Phoolwati has just got through the Rajasthan state BSTC (Basic School Teacher Course) exam and is looking forward to become a qualified teacher after the training. Her parents beg for a living, especially during religious ceremonies as they belong to a lower scheduled caste that by custom receives aid and alms from others in the society. Her parents married her off as soon as she turned 20. Her 24 year old husband works with a catering shop and earns around Rs 6000-8000 per month.

However neither her, nor her parents’ status deterred Phoolwati from pursuing education. Her parents are quite supportive of her education and want her to be successful. She passed higher secondary school in arts and scored 70%. Once she finished class 12, her parents were not sure of her future and in their pursuit to see her settled made them get her married off. But Phoolwati was determined to study and secure a job that would bring them out of poverty.

She was selected last year through the BSTC exam as well, however since she could not submit three signatures of doctors along with her disability certificate, she could not join. This year she applied in the schedule caste quota instead and got the admission.

In India where many states institutes and colleges have vacant seats for disability quotas, it is indeed sad to witness yet another girl like Phoolwati struggle so much and fail to avail the reserved seat. She has been allotted a seat in Udaipur but she has requested for a shift to Barmer district, otherwise she will need to shift to Udaipur with her husband which may pose more challenges for her.

The Census of India 2011 showed that the prevalence of disability in India was 26.8 million, of which 14.9 million are males and 11.8 million females. Out of 2.9 million children with disabilities in India, 990,000 children aged 6 to 13 years (34%) are out of school (Source: Fixing the broken promise of Education for all, UNICEF). ‘The Persons with Disability’ Act 1995 reserves 3% of all categories of jobs in the government sector for disabled persons. But no public sector organization has persons with disability more than 1-1.5% of their workforce.

Despite many national schemes that include skill trainings and allotments, we need the will to make it possible for people with disability to achieve and avail what’s rightfully their share. When asked on what inspires her to keep moving ahead, Phoolwati said, “I am thankful to my parents and brother for their constant support. Looking at my condition and family status, many people find it hard to believe I could achieve this much. I am determined to work hard and help my family come out of poverty.

Not many have Phoolwati’s courage and determination and fewer still will have the support she got.

She recalls her schools days and says, “I was lucky to have the school close to my house. Otherwise if it was far I would not have been able to go. I am hoping that my husband will now support and encourage my training as my parents did.” It is still a long way for Phoolwati but she is determined to complete the training and become a teacher one day.

Being a woman is fine but being a woman with disability, it’s very challenging. Often I have faced denials and struggled to prove myself. Sometimes I also get inferiority complex and have to keep motivating myself,” she added.

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