Umar Mukhtar tells the remarkable story of a carpenter who, after an accident, remained limited to his wheelchair for three years and then decided to fight back and now he is an employer
At the peak of 2016 unrest, Arshad Ahmad Wani, a carpenter, was fixing the roof of a cowshed when he heard a few gunshots from a nearby garrison, probably housing the SOG. The unnerved carpenter panicked and literally rushed down quickly, fearing a stray bullet might hit him. Though experienced enough, he lost his balance over the makeshift support he was walking on, slipped and fell down on a wooden ladder. Quickly, he was unconscious and remained dangling on the temporary staircase till his brother rescued him.
A resident of Pulwama’s Litter village, Arshad was left wheelchair-bound, thus putting his family of ten (including his brother’s family) into misery. The family had to manage the medical bill of the lone breadwinner and also fend for the routine costs that life demands. For days and weeks, Wani watched his family and the dear ones confronting life and even failing. Gradually, the crisis was eating him from inside. This also gave him enough courage to go against tradition and nature.
Three years later, Arshad found a way to work again on a carpentry setup installed in his small courtyard. He decided to take on the defeat.
Now, he is as good a professional as he was in the pre-2016 era. Every new day throws a new challenge to him. He has to get up and make himself ready for work. It is not an easy task to do. Arshad is a wheelchair-bound person. As he wakes up early in the morning, with the help of his better-half, Arshad gets fresh and has breakfast. His wife puts him onto the wheelchair which is always by one side of his bed.
Soon after, his elder brother, Imtiaz Ahmad, joins him. He pushes his wheelchair out of his room into his courtyard to the carpentry unit that came up quite recently.
“I am a carpenter for the last 17 years. I had 11 apprentices working under me,” said Arshad with moist eyes. Everything was going fine till that unfortunate day which made his life totally dependent.
“I could see him rolling down and getting stuck into a ladder below,” said his brother Wani, who was also working on the roof, almost 18 feet above the spot where his brother landed.
Wani could see his brother’s whole body dangling lifelessly. “I could not move as if I got lifeless. I somehow cried out for help,” Arshad said. The neighbours came when they heard Wani crying for help. They lift Arshad but it was looking as if he was cut into two exact halves.
He was so badly injured that he couldn’t be evacuated to the hospital. While the number of people around did manage to pick him up, the heady task was how to take him to the hospital because the roads were blocked from all sides. Some of the access roads were laced with barbed wires.
Somehow, they arranged an ambulance from a nearby hospital and manoeuvring all the roadblocks succeeded in reaching the district hospital in Pulwama where doctors examined him and referred to SKIMS. At SKIMS, he was operated upon.
The spinal cord injuries are not easier. The operation and the medical bill cost him around Rs 1.25 lakh for 22 days he was there undergoing treatment. The family’s entire modest savings were gone.
After 22 days, Wani was discharged but was asked to stay around so that he can come daily for check-ups and exercises. But the economic conditions were now so fragile. Arshad could not afford a rented pace hence came back to home.
“I had lost everything; in fact, the ration quota was over; we had literally nothing to eat; my wife had given the rice to the needy in alms, hoping for my recovery,” said Arshad. He was not now able to work again as he was bedridden. There was no source of income to the family. The family of 10 were now totally dependent on the alms. The family had no hopes of a revival.
One day, an acquaintance came to see Arshad. He advised him to visit the Shafakat Rehabilitation Centre that specialises in such problems. Somehow, the family drove him to Bemina and it marked the beginning of a change.
There, he was counselled and was asked to get out of the bed and start doing something. Arshad was reluctant initially. “I thought how can a disabled person like me be any more independent? I shared all the apprehension with them.” The counsellor took him to a tour to Parimpora Srinagar where he saw a disabled person making a decent living by working hard.
“I saw the disabled person was working and doing well,” admitted Arshad. This inspired him and once he was back home, the same night, he discussed the idea of having his own unit within his courtyard. Arshad was so motivated and had such a resolve that he started working on a new idea from Bemina itself.
“I discussed it with my wife and my brother; they cried in joy when I said to them that I will work again,” remembers Arshad.
At the same time, however, Arshad was getting weak day by day as he was worried about his family. This worry never let him rest properly. “At times, I definitely thought my world is over. I have no reason to live for and thought that I am a burden over my family.”
Later, he applied for the loan and got a loan of Rs7 lakh under PMEGY, a centrally sponsored scheme. He invested this amount and bought various machines like a planner, band saw cutter, chain greaser and a generator. Arshad is now employing four employees in his unit. Arshad who once was dependent on the donations and alms is now giving Rs 45000 as salaries to his employees.
He is taking orders and is making the doors, windows and other items. “I am getting a good number of orders from the customers but I need a heavy initial investment to sustain it,” he said.
Getting back to work and being able to earn for his family again, Arshad credits this all to his wife: “She managed everything on her own. She looked after the agricultural lands, animals and managed the family in my absence. When I met with this unfortunate incident, I thought my world is over but it was my wife who always stood by my side and inspired me to get back on the track.”
Ishfaq, one of his employees, is all praise for Arshad. Ishfaq was working somewhere else but he saw a video where he saw a wheelchair-bound man is working as a carpenter and is earning for his family. “Such willpower and such a resolve! I decided to help him in his work,” Ishfaq said. Now, he travels a distance of around 18 km to be with Arshad. “Working here gives me peace.”