Disability is no inability

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Left paraplegic by multiple bullet injuries, Arshad Pandith chose to come out of despair and live his life. Today he drives his car, his life, and counsels others to overcome handicaps. Ibrahim Wani reports the story.

Arshad pandith
It was May 21, 1995. Arshad Ahmad Pandith was sitting in his brother’s clinic at Rajbagh.

“I was busy reading a book. The next moment, I heard gunshots and an intense pain ran throughout my body,” recalls Arshad. Three bullets had hit his spinal cord, and the 21-year-old was left paraplegic for life.

Paraplegia is a complete paralysis of lower half of the body caused due to spinal cord injury. It leaves the patients immobile.

“It was the time in my life when I was to join the university,” says Arshad, who was selected to biotechnology courses in JNU as well as Kashmir University. The selection letter reached him on a hospital bed.

“From being a sportsperson I abruptly found myself even unable to move,” says Arshad, who was a regular face in his college cricket team – Institute 11.

Sitting in his wheelchair at his house in Lal Bazaar, today, Arshad recalls the years spent entirely on bed. Tucked away from the world in the “corners of darkness”, this was the time of gloom in Arshad’s life. “I just lived through my days. The life of a paraplegic is a life of dependency, depression and psychological stress.”

The ordeal affected his family too for whom Arshad was a shining star. He would have been the first from his family to join a university. “My examples were given to all the cousins in the family. I was the reference point”.

“All the dreams of my family came crumbling down. Now even my survival was a big question mark,” recalls Arshad. His family left no stone unturned to treat him. They took him to All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and consulted many neurologists, but with little results. Arshad was confined to his bed for two and a half years.

At this point of time, Arshad made a choice. “I had only two options. To stay in bed or to give life a try again. I chose the latter.” Against all odds, he appeared for an interview for a job in the pathology department of SKIMS and was selected.

Since then, he has completed his post graduation in immunology while simultaneously doing his job. Recently he was selected for a PhD program in the institute.Today, Arshad is a PG resident at the SKIMS, pursuing his research on bladder cancer.

His necessities have turned him into an innovator too. With the help of his brother and a mechanic, he has modified the gear system in the car he recently purchased. “Today I drive my own car to the hospital.”

Arshad was awarded the Rotary Club Achievement Award in the year 2005. He was also been selected for the prestigious Ford Fellowship but he opted out of it to be with his family. He is a poet too and writes under the pen name ‘Aajiz’. He has been approached by TV and Radio and soon his Ghazals and poems would be on air.

Arshad is a ray of hope for the physically challenged. “Now my aim in life is to help people like me,” he says.

When he locates people like himself, who may be depressed, he counsels them. “I talk to them on phone first concealing my condition so that they are able to express themselves completely. And then I visit them,” says Arshad. “They see me and somehow hope is instilled in them too.” Many a times, Arshad says, he has managed to bring people back from the brink of suicide.

He has grievances against the government. “There is no ramp in any government or private building in the state. The state is oblivious to the concerns of the physically challenged. There is no aid to the physically challenged. Even loans given to us for purchasing wheelchairs and medical equipment are not subsidized. Surely government has framed a physically disabled friendly policy in 1998 but it is seldom implemented on ground. Time is long overdue for 3 per cent reservation for the disabled.”

He also wants society to be more sensitive and empathic towards people like him and not piteous.

Arshad is working to setup a rehabilitation centre for the physically challenged. His goal in life is to be of use to the physically challenged people who have to lead a life of misery and isolation. “The physically challenged people in the America and Europe feel no disability at all because they are provided with every facility,” says Arshad. “My aim is to repeat the same for physically challenged Kashmiri People.”

Arshad quotes a couplet of his own to inspire and tell people like him that “disability never means inability”.

Beshak tu hai khaak mei shaakh se gir kar
Pyeda kar isi khaak mei anmool khazaana
(Of course, you have fallen on earth from tree branch
Create a precious treasure in the same earth).

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