The Fault is Not Theirs
By Aleena Khan

25 May 2009
Locked up, beaten, emotionally scarred, disabled people in Pakistan are ostracized from mainstream society. No conscious effort is made in integrating them, with their peers and they continue to live their lives in isolation. When a mentally or physically disabled child is born, initially the parents and other family members live in denial. They are not willing to accept the fact that the child is not normal and actually has a disability. They’ll think he’s rude and disobedient without realizing that he might actually be deaf. This is followed by the stage of non-acceptance. When asked how many children a man has, he will very conveniently not count the disabled child. Disabled children are rejected and are not given equal treatment as the rest of the children in the family.
One of the main social issues linked with disabled people is the different ways in which they are abused. As they are considered a burden on the family, and are not considered even ‘humans’ in extreme cases, they are physically abused. Beaten up for not understanding things the ease with which the rest of us do, for not being able to help themselves and being dependant on others, disabled people end up having very low self esteem if any. They are mentally tortured by being called cruel names that highlight their disabilities and only result in them feeling further dejected and hurt. Some may even be sexually abused by relatives or others around them. Some of them are used as a sympathy card by the family and may even be abused for financial gains in a sense. This is a common practice in families that live on money they get through begging. Having a disabled person in their ‘gang’ only increases the chances of getting more money from people. I heard about how an NGO approached a blind girl’s parents and offered to get her eye sight back. Her parents refused in getting her eyes operated on as the beautiful blind girl used to sing in the streets of her village in Punjab to earn money that was used in running the house.
It is sad how the mother is usually blamed if a child with mental or physical disabilities is born in a family. She is yelled at for having given birth to such a child and is also held responsible for all the problems the child may cause to others. In some cases, people associate disabilities with names. I remember being told that I was supposed to be named Mariam but then some elders in the family objected to it saying that that they know of a ‘Mariam’ who is mentally slow. There is a lot of stigma attached to disabilities in Pakistan. Sometimes having a disabled sibling may result in a girl not getting good marriage proposals. How is that even remotely fair?
Although the issue of treatment of disabled people in Pakistan is still of major concern, numerous NGOs are putting in great efforts to change the perception the general population has towards these people. NGOs are also working towards helping the disabled individuals by teaching them some sort of skills that would make them self sufficient as much as possible. They are also offering them treatment and support in all forms. We still have a long way to go though. Changing people’s perceptions may take generations, but if we don’t start now, when will we?

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