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Jasmina Khanna

Jamina Khanna In this country if you are physically handicapped, you are mentally handicapped as well. Or so people think. It took some time for me to realise that I was actually handicapped. I have cerebral palsy and my motor functions are disrupted.

Being the youngest in my family I am one of the lucky ones. I have always been pampered. At the age of eight or nine I joined the Children's orthopaedic hospital. It is a hospital, part of which is a school. I did four years of schooling there and then joined the Spastic Society of India which has a recognised SSC school.

I joined in the fifth year and got a double promotion though dealing with the portion was a nightmare. It wasn't too difficult to fit in as everyone there was like me and the teachers were very good to us. There were very few students in my class because in India not many physically handicapped take up education. We had all the subjects prescribed in the SSC syllabus, only geometry and parts of algebra were omitted. However, if I had a choice I would definitely take algebra.

I managed to get a 100 per cent in maths in my final year. Spastic students are given writers for their exams, most of whom are juniors. They often don't understand many concepts, neither do they understand what we are trying to say due to which we often to lose out on marks.

It is easy to interact with others like us but we restrain from mixing with the rest. We fear non acceptance. Many people don't know how to react to us. Many tell my parents, 'Why do you want to make her study, what can she do after all?'

But I always knew I would study, most of us at the school did. But we didn't make any future plans. Many of my classmates weren't too optimistic due to their physical limitations. I never held back when it came to studying or participating, in fact I love writing. In class VIII, I won the first prize in an Inter school essay competition. It was great. I have tried to write but my fingers cannot hold a pen -- it keeps slipping.

I think it's crucial for a spastic to have a supportive family and friends. Often one feels sorry for oneself but you can either be optimistic or pessimistic. You have to choose the former, there is no choice. I don't really dwell on my limitations, if I do, I cry and I don't want my parents to see that. I guess I am fortunate because my dad has his own business and can provide for me. I hate to think about people like me who don't have my kind of support and money.

My first day at college was a nightmare. It was the first time I was in the midst of normal people. It was up to me to mix around with then. I felt terribly out of place, wondering how they would react to me. There were others like me but they could at least walk while I just sat in class the entire day. For six months I hardly spoke to anyone and went anywhere. As I have a speech defect I never spoke in class throughout those years.But after that, I gradually opened out and now I have umpteen friends.

After finishing college I realised there was some real thinking to be done. I realised commuting within the city would be my main obstacle. I had to think of jobs that could be done from home. I knew I wasn't going to waste my life. How could I discard all those years I spent studying? I was single-minded about making use of this life.

My first option was to give tuitions to children...(laughs), it was a disaster!! There were lots of kids who needed tuition, but nobody had confidence in me. They couldn't accept the idea that a spastic was capable of teaching. When you have a physical defect you automatically become dumb in the mind of people. But this is true only in their minds. Do you know that 75 per cent people suffering from cerebral palsy are of average or above average intelligence? There is no difference between your mind and mine. Yet, I was not disheartened. I started looking for something else. I took to computers and started to learn DOS, WordStar and Foxpro programming.

Jasmina Khanna I was incredibly scared first. I did not know how they were going to teach me, moreover, you come across people of all age groups doing computers. But my instructor was one of the nicest people I've met. It took me a long time to even press the keys. My hands either pressed the wrong key or two keys at a time.

I decided to find some help for this problem, so I went to the national development job centre which is affiliated to the Spastic Society of India. After much searching I discovered a software called accessibility options that helps us use computers. But even though it is a great help I still haven't found work. I did take up two jobs. I typed an entire advertising campaign for one agency and an architect's project. But I don't want to do only typing jobs. I want to use my intelligence and not stick to brain dead stuff. It's not for the money, I want to work because I want to contribute to this society...if they will let me.

People hesitate to call me for an interview. But I will not give up, the search is on. For a spastic, optimism is not enough, you even have to make an effort to live. I had never known that I would ever go abroad, but through an exchange programme I went to Scotland. I can't sit around waiting for things to happen. I go for parties whenever invited. I just don't sit in the corner and try to mix around but I wish I could dance.

I love making friends. I've never thought about marriage. Of course, I would love to have a companion, you can't express all your emotions and feelings to your family. But with the attitude we have in this country, do you think any man would want me? In other countries, people like me are given a chance to lead a normal life, I have seen it. Here we are encouraged to stay behind closed doors. No, I don't think I will ever get married. I am not going to wish for things I know are impossible.

I wish our society could become a little broadminded about disabled people. How long are we going to remain outcasts? People need to get rid of the notion that we are mentally disabled. If given the opportunity, we can do something, work well, be productive. I know what it is to be ignored by society. I've lived with it. But I choose to carry on. My life is productive. I am proud of myself. I have a right to be.

As told to Bian Lobo.

Photographs: Jewella C Miranda