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“It is only you, who undoubtedly possesses the power to focus upon the Silver Lining behind every cloud that may shadow your life ever”!
Preeti Monga
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Media Coverage
Published in OUTLOOK on June 22, 1998

Outlook I would call them survival stories, not success stories," says Preeti Monga , 39, taking a break from singing a sheaf of official letters a colleagure has thrust at her at the last moment. Tall with striking good looks, she's manager, marketing and resource development, at Katha, a Delhi-based non - profit organistion dealing in creative communication. The last of the initials taken care of Preeti pushes back her chair, looks you straight in the eyes and says, "Let's go". On the the yay she talks animatedly about her work at katha, where she develops materials such as letters, brochures etc, conducts sensitization campaigns in public schools on topics of social concern and liaises with the corporate sector for financial and material support for katha's projects. All the while directing the taxi perfectly through the long drive to her trans - Yamuna home from her office in south Delhi. It's only when she has to cross the road to her apartment that she asks for a little assistance. Preeti is blind, a small-pox vaccine having damaged her optic nerves when she was 21 days old.

Preeti dose not wear her disability on her sleeves. "Why should I? I don't board a bus through the roof or drink tea with my ears. I'm like everybody else. It's just something I can't do - see. My brother, at 35, still can't serve tea without spilling half of it into the saucer," she giggles.

But how many find their place in socity like preeti has? Ten percent of india's population is disabled- the number a whopping 90 million, with physical, sensory or mental impairments. And every tenth person in India knows, at some personal cost, the meaning of exclusion, discrimination and humiliation. Attitudes which group them as oddities and deny them their right to dignified existence. Indian society accords them no place within its ranks-- then are kept in the shadows, hovering in a twilight zone. Failing to understand that the fault does Not lie with them.

Then again, breaking free of these shackles, some have risen, achieving soaring heights. But for every Satish Gujral, Firdaus Kanga and Sudha Chandran, there are thousands others striving to lift themselves out of quagmires of silence, sightlessness and solitude. Individuals in their own right, unsung heroes who mould their future to suit themselves. Creating history with their stories. Not of isolation but of integration. Refusing to bow to preconceived notations of a society decidedly uncomfortable with the word disability.

" The greatest disability is doing no work," says Chandigarh's wonder man Vineet Khanna. Founder-director of the Youth Technical Training Society (YTTS), one of the most successful NGO's operating in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh, the 46 - year - old zips around in his specially - equipped Tata Sumo, travelling flat on his back. For Vineet has been immobile. Neck down, since age 20. After a minor accident, doctors put him in a body cast which left him paralyzed when remove.

But today, his days are two short as he packs into 24 hours supervision of vocational centeres for youth; Pustak, a literacy programme for slum children; Vama, an empowerement programme for women; clinics, AIDS awareness campaigns and sanitation programme - travelling to each centre including to areas of operation in the other states as well. Confined to a two - tiered stretcher, his wasted body lies at an awkward angle , his left leg resting on the second tier of the mobile be - the kind of person who raises more questions than providing answers.

All this, while suffering from severe Ankylosing spondylosis, kidney problems and after effect of a stroke he suffered in late 1996. Has society rejected him? He's the most respected man in Chandigarh today.

"Society treats you the way your family treats you. My family let me fall, get hurt by in the end I learnt to stand up and look straight ahead," says Preety. Jeej Ghosh does not quite agree. "The one thing, the only one thing that bugs me3, " says Jeeja, sitting in her windswept eighth-floor south Calcutta apartment, "is the social barrier I continue to face, the jibes, the sanctimonious sympathies l, the stares on the roads." That's what poains her most, not her body, which has refused to obey commands ever since she was born with cerebral palsy.

Like when doctors at hospitals harass her during her visits for disability from - " A passport size picture (of Jeeja) will not do" aa doctor says. " I need a picture of her necked to ascertain her disability." "in a bus they'll call me a mad woman or exclaim, ' how did her mother let her go out alone?" Tell me , what's their problem?"

Their problem, as explained by Prof. Ali Baquer, who heads the Delhi-based advocacy organization for the disabled, Concerned Action Now, is 'frame of mind'. Uniformed condescension contributes to marginalization of the disabled, according to Baquer. He calls the entrenched attitude 'disablism', which he sees as a "social calls the entrenched attitude 'disablism', which he sees as a "social construct and a flaw in the thinking process of society." What is required is enlightenment. The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of 'rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, was landmark ruling. It treats disability as a civil rights rather than a health and walfare issue. "Promotion of the Act is required," says Baquer and the disabled should come forward and demand their due. Agrees 24-yeres-old Priyes Jain of Bomby who's been blind since birth. "I realized long ago it was my duty to help people change their opinion about me."

Jeeja, whether she knows it or not , has taken not a step but stride in the right direction. One of the first graduates from the Spastic Society of Eastern India, this pretty walf-like 29-year-old passed her ICSE examination and high school with flying colours, majored in Sociology from Calcutta's famed Presidency College, picked up a masters in social work from Delhi University, travelled to England for a two - month self-advocacy programme. All this at a time when there is still little awareness about cerebral palsy. These days she works as a professional social worker with the Spastic Society and plans to do her doctoral dissertation on 'marriage between disabled and non-disabled people'.