I met Seema few years back when we both were working in an NGO. She worked as a receptionist there. And like every other receptionist – Seema was beautiful, cheerful, enthusiastic, confident and efficient. I always admired her independent nature.
As our interactions grew we started sharing personal issues. From our interactions I understood that she had lost her father early and her mother brought her up by doing odd jobs. As soon as she completed her XII grade, she took up a pre primary teacher’s job. She handled her job so well that everyone was impressed with her personality. With getting a teacher’s job financially she took large part of responsibility of her family. Eventually she got married in a family who were distantly related. Her husband was a part of family business.
One day I was praising her. I said she has come a long way as coming from humble background today she is independent and confident lady who is in complete charge of her life. Suddenly she burst crying and I was unable to control her. I was flabbergasted. After settling down, she said, ‘Sumati, I have created this façade of being independent and strong lady but in real life I am neither independent nor confident.’ I waited for her to explain.
She explained that immediately after marriage she conceived. When the good news was shared with the family, they did not see it as ‘good news’. They did not know how to react to this. Both, mother and father in law decided that it was not a right time for the couple to have a child so they should go for abortion. The husband did not utter a word. Seema underwent an abortion. Tears in her eyes Seema said, ‘so you see, I am neither independent nor confident.’ I was stunned. I did not know how to react.
That whole day I kept thinking about Seema and the incident she narrated. Her face crying with pain kept coming in front of my eyes. I kept thinking how a girl who emerged strong from such struggle against circumstances could not stand the pressure of in laws. I was convinced of the adage - truth is stranger than fiction!
Same day evening I met Meena. She had called me and said she wanted to share something. Meena coming from a small village, humble background, with ‘average looks’, was a student in university. She used artificial limb. She was very meek, docile and hardly talked with anybody. In Indian society marriage of handicap girls is a big challenge. Parents often compromise and end up giving huge dowry so that their daughter is married off. So Meena’s marriage was a big issue and was being discussed often at her home and even in university by her well wishers.
Meena started. She said Ravi sir had called her and suggested to meet a possible groom. The boy suggested was from same caste and came from a well to do family. Meena was open to the idea. So she, Ravi sir, the boy and his parents met. The boy she realized was hardly educated, 15 years elder and also an handicap. The parents of the boy explained, ‘Meena if you are convinced of our son, I assure you both don’t have to bother to earn. We have saved enough money and have a home of our own.’
She looked straight in my eyes and said without mincing words – ‘Sumati, I don’t consider myself a handicap. I hate the sympathy which I get for being handicap. I am handicap but I won’t compromise on basic qualities I look in my partner. I want my partner to be earning his living and I will be living mine. I don’t mind living in humble circumstances but I want to live with self respect. I might end up marrying a handicap person tomorrow but I will make a choice. I will decide what I want to in my life.
On one hand there was Seema who appeared so confident, independent, with metropolitan background could not stand for herself and on the other hand there was Meena, from a rural village with 'average looks' and who appeared ‘unconfident’ girl stood for herself. Meena stood for herself. It was a day of enlightenment for me. Never judge a person on outward appearances.