I prefer being called disabled than differently-abled: An Interview with Rewati Karki, 3rd Year (BSW)
Born in Sindhupalchowk, Rewati Karki, the middle child in the family of five prefers the term ‘disabled’ rather than ‘differently abled’. She is the only disabled person in her entire family. The family migrated to Kathmandu but soon her father went abroad to earn money leaving the kids with the mother.
“Disabled + girl child is not a favorable combination in Nepal,” Karki said. Her dad wasn’t around much so all of young Rewati’s hurt and wrath came out on her mom but now that she is older she knows it’s not her mothers’ fault that she was born this way; she feels bad about lashing out at her as a kid. While other kids could walk at the age of 2, she was unable to walk until age 7. One of her arms was folded, stuck to her chest. Her parents for the first few years didn’t really know what was wrong, but once she crossed 4 years of age, they grew more concerned and at age 7, the family went to a doctor. Once she started going to school, she started to realize she was different.
“Even though schools weren’t accepting a disabled child like me, my parents and sister always put me in schools with able-bodied children and so I stood out even more,” Karki said. In all her life she has changed about 8 to 9 schools and in doing so, she realized she couldn’t walk like everybody else, she couldn’t eat like everybody else, she couldn’t talk like everybody else.
“Soon, I realized I was ‘abnormal’, different from the rest of the society,” Karki said.
Karki went to only one disabled school in her life. Surrounded by children who were disabled, she noticed that both the faculty and other children behaved very normally with each other without sympathizing. She mentions help was provided very casually to children unlike in schools without disability considerations, where people intentionally or unintentionally looked at her as she terms it, “defected”.
She spent most of her childhood inside her bedroom or in the kitchen near her mother, under her supervision. “I tried several times to walk on my own, I’d walk a few steps and fall down over and over again. I still have scars on my body and face from the countless times I hurt myself trying to walk,” Karki said. Over the years she went to different doctors and she noticed that most of them handled her very delicately but one doctor whom she is very grateful for is the late neurologist Upendra Devkota.
She said, “he looked at me, not my disability”. Rewati said that he was very encouraging and gave her no room to think less of herself. She says she despises sympathy, she genuinely believes there is a fine line between sympathy and empathy. Her family always supported her and never made her feel different. She remembers when she and her family used to walk the long stairs in Swayambhu for exercise, very often she used to get imbalanced and fall. Neither her dad nor her sister used to come to help her, instead, they’d leave her, get ahead and ask her to walk faster. She used to stand up and start walking, only to fall again but knowing that she had to get up and start walking again.
“I visited more witchdoctors than actual doctors,” said Karki. She doesn’t remember every witchdoctor she met but one stands out in her memory who tried to give reason to her condition. She was told not to eat anything from the day before meeting him. Karki said she was 12 years old and was shivering due to weakness. After a few chants and rituals, the witch doctor said that someone had hexed her but that person died so now her disability cannot be treated because the hex can be undone only by the person who put it.
“Mild Cerebral Palsy is the name of my condition, or at least according to my research on the internet, I have drawn this conclusion,” said Karki. She went to several doctors and no one could tell her the cause or name of her condition. Rewati said, “They gave me treatments, made me do plenty of scans from the brain to body, gave me physiotherapy, and charged me an amount with which I could buy 2 houses but they couldn’t tell me about my condition.”
The only reason she managed to complete school was the love and support from her friends. The teachers and the management were very reluctant to give her admission in the school as they assumed she would fail just because she was disabled. After searching, getting admitted, and dropping out of multiple schools, she finally found one school where she studied the longest. In school, she wrote her own exams, did everything on her own but marks were poor not because she wasn’t bright but because of the restraints that came with mild cerebral palsy. “I was never told anything about scribe services (a service where students whose disability prevents them from writing are provided individuals who will write verbatim what the student dictates) for disabled students, I was also a little egoistic and did not want to take people’s help so, I gave my School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exam and failed, of course,” Karki said. The next time around she took the scribe services for her exam and cleared SLC.
Remembering the school days Rewati says, “In front of the whole class, in front of my friends, the teachers used to blatantly say ‘Rewati is a bad company, stay away from her if you want to pass’ just because I was disabled and getting poor grades.” In school when she was menstruating, she expressed how difficult it was to use only one of her hands to change sanitary pads. She used to have difficulty placing the pad and sometimes the pad would slip off so every month during her periods after school, she went back home with a stained skirt, sometimes covering it by lowering the backpack and sometimes by tying sweaters or other clothing to her waist.
“I can confidently say that the worst part of my life was school,” she said. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the students who were bullying her, it was the teachers who tried to break her down morally, mentally, physically, and emotionally. “A Nepali teacher used to call me ‘Lati’ which is ‘dumb’(derogatory term used for speech impaired individuals) meaning someone who cannot speak because my speech wasn’t clear, she used to say ‘eh lati, bass chupo layera’ (hey you dumb girl, sit quietly),” said Karki. Even the education system of Nepal was not helpful to her. She recalled an exam where she with her in-exam scribe were given an exam retake question paper because the invigilator assumed that just because she was disabled, she was someone who came to retake the exam. “I had clearly told the invigilator about my course and year but still, they made the mistake and I had to bear the brunt as I failed and had to come back for an exam retake,” Karki said.
She searched 49 colleges for Bachelor of Arts (BA) program and Thames was the 49th. In the entrance exam interview taken by Mr. Sujan Kayastha, Director of Thames she recalls, she was sitting across the table and he asked her to introduce herself. As she finished talking she said he looked at her and noticed her speech and soon figured out that she was disabled. She remembers him rejecting her and saying that Thames cannot take her in. Hurt she asked, ‘Why sir? Is it because I’m disabled?’ to which he replied saying, ‘No, the problem isn’t with you, it’s with us because we cannot provide you the facilities you may need and we don’t have disabled-friendly teachers so we don’t want to inconvenience you.’ Rewati said that it was very refreshing to hear someone say that because all other 48 colleges made her feel as if she lacked something. After Karki insisted on studying at Thames, the college management post a few board meetings called her back offering her a seat.
Having had horrible experiences with teachers in the past, Karki says Thames and its faculty seem like they’re from a different world altogether. The kind of support and encouragement the teaching staff provides is incredible. Recalling her first year at Thames, “My English teacher at Thames, Nasala Chitrakar always says, ‘There’s no such thing as “wrong” and “correct” answer, everyone has an opinion which is ok’, I was so happy to hear this,” said Karki. She mentions an instance where she apologized when she couldn’t speak clearly due to her disability and her Rural Sociology teacher at Thames, Samin Rijal told her not to apologize saying, ‘It’s my fault that I didn’t hear you clearly’.
“Even though the term I use for myself in the world is ‘disabled’, I have realized that in reality, I am not disabled, Nepal’s societal environment and the people around me are disabling,” said Karki.
Rewati works in Shiksha Nepal (Since 2016-Present) and has recently been appointed its vice-president. She has done an internship at Blue Diamond Society, an LGBTQ+ rights organization in Nepal for one year. Currently, she is involved in the Global South Coalition for Dignified Mensuration (GSCDM) as an intern.
Read other reflection articles by Sneha: (http://reflections.thamescollege.edu.np/?s=Sneha+Dahal)
Read Sneha’s Kathmandu Post articles: https://kathmandupost.com/author/sneha-dahal