Two years back, a youth from a village in south Kashmir’s Bijbehara district hogged global limelight after his profile was published by some international media organisations. What made Amir Hussain Lone so special? Amir lost both his arms in an accident at his father’s sawmill when he was just eight years old, but that did not deter him from pursuing his passion for cricket. The photograph of armless Amir batting and bowling using his feet symbolized great determination and defiance against all odds.
One photo shows him striding down the crease while holding the bat between his neck and shoulder. Another picture shows him bowling with his toes - using a sweeping leg movement to hurl the ball. Of the many headlines, the one I liked most was from Mirror (UK) - “Watch the incredible cricketer with NO ARMS who has hit his disability for six”. Amir’s story was brought to the world by talented motion photographer Younis Zargar with the original story carried by Barcroft India. Amir, now the captain of the Jammu and Kashmir state para-cricket team, is truly an inspiring figure.
Amir’s story is quite relevant in the context of ‘International Day of Persons with Disabilities’ being observed today. The theme for this year's observance is, "Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality." There is a need to highlight people who embody this theme.
Like Amir, there are many other people who have overcome tremendous challenges to live their dreams and serve as an inspiration for others.
CNN carried a brief report with the headline ‘Join the world on Monday in recognizing the strengths and struggles of people with disabilities’. The CNN report referred to its series "Turning Points" which profiled several such ‘people of courage’ who live up to the ideals of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Sample these- a young woman who recovered from a vegetative state and became a competitive dancer; an artist, paralyzed from the neck down, who paints stunning pictures with a brush in his mouth; a blind competitive swimmer and a wheelchair-bound comedian who has set new standards of stand-up comedy.
While such stories sound quite promising, it is equally important to realise the responsibility of the governments and society in general towards people with disabilities.
According to the United Nations, more than one billion people across the world have some sort of disability. Jammu and Kashmir also has a huge population of disabled people. Infact, there was two-fold increase in the number of physically challenged persons in the state from 2001 to 2011. According to Census 2001, while there were around three lakh physically challenged persons across the state, it increased to over seven lakh in the next 10 years.
In Kashmir the increase in disability cases is attributed to firing, blasts, street protests and other such incidents. Given the situation in the valley in the last over three decades, there has been a sharp increase in the number of persons with disabilities. Persons who survive bullet and pellet injuries add to the ever-growing list.
While the physically challenged persons have long been complaining about official apathy, there has been no real effort to address their grievances. The preoccupation of the authorities to maintain law and order in the valley has meant that many vulnerable sections of the society continue to suffer. We get to hear the ministers and officials talk at length about the problems faced by physically disabled and the schemes meant for their welfare on occasions like World Disability Day. They don’t go beyond the token gestures of giving prosthetic limbs, wheel chairs or cheques to some disabled persons. As a result, the real problems facing them remain unaddressed.
There has also been a surge in the mental disorder cases in the past three decades. Some non-governmental organizations like Medicos Sans Frontiers (MSF) have been doing their bit to help the people suffering from anxiety, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorders. Some years back, MSF released findings of its study as per which a significant chunk of population was suffering from anxiety and depression, with many experiencing mental illness as a result of physical health problems. Among the affected lot, 60 per cent were women. Furthermore, during its studies, MSF researchers also discovered that 50 percent of these cases had trauma background and in one way or the other related to conflict.
While the government must take concrete steps to alleviate the sufferings of people suffering from physical and mental disabilities, as a society it’s our collective responsibility to help them tide over their problems and realise their true potential.
We are proud of Amir and what he has achieved on his own, but we must ask ourselves: do we really care for people with disabilities?