Darkness. Suddenly, the space lights up and two teenage boys, Jalal and Tareq, are visible in their bright orange and yellow panjabis. That exact moment reminds you of the sunrise and symbolises a beacon of hope. This moment was the first sequence of the drama My life my decision, performed by adolescents and youth with autism, intellectual and/or multiple disabilities.
The play focuses on the life of these two teenagers, whose mother force them to work in a tailor shop. It also tells the story of Mitu, who is abused by her stepfather. Based on real scenarios faced by persons with autism, intellectual and/or multiple disabilities, the drama was staged at Chhayanaut auditorium on October 14.
Persons with disabilities vulnerable to abuse
The 15 minute longperformance was organised by the Society for Education and Inclusion of the Disabled (SEID), along with Steps Towards Development, DDRC and support from Disability Rights Advocacy Fund. All the performers are part of a self-advocate group – a group patronised by SEID and formed with adolescents and youth with autism, intellectual and multiple disabilities with the intention of giving them their own voice, and a platform to speak of their rights.
The drama pictured violence, abuse and shaming of persons with disabilities, especially the girls and women. In between acts, the young performers read out from laws that identify and cement the rights of people with disabilities.
The performers spoke to the audience after the performance as well. Sanjid Hossain, self advocate said asked others to share what they experienced at the play and help them establish their rights, whereas Shilamoni added “we have got a platform to share now, one which didn't exist before.”
We often think girls are the only victim, but the truth is that both the sexes undergo this sort of abuse. And when the children have disabilities, the victimsare more vulnerable and less able to raise their voices, due to their physical and mental condition and of course, social stigma
Sushanta kumar Pramanik, additional secretary, Ministry of Social Welfare, also expressed his feelings - “they have shown the world their potential. If we leave these gifted people behind, there is no way we can achieve our dreams about Bangladesh.” He added that the first approach has to be building awareness, and that society also has to provide support through education and professional training.
Reminiscing about his journey of working for disabled people, K M Shahiduzzaman, social services officer said, “Within a few years, we have come very far. With endurance and dedication, we can turn these children into assets for the nations.”
The love and resilience of parents
Shahiduzzaman also said that parents of disabled children are the true beacons of hope. Every day, they are holding their children's hands, battling by their side and celebrating their every achievement. These resilient parents were also given a platform to speak at the event.
Kanij Fatema spoke of her fears, saying how so much of her time is taken up by worrying who will look after her daughter once she is gone, since none of her other able children are ready to take responsibility of their sister. Janika Begum spoke of her anguish when society harasses her child and calls him 'mad'.
Another fearless mother, Nusrat Farzana, spoke of howshe is struggling to protect her children from sexual harassment and abuse.
We often think girls are the only victim, but the truth is that both the sexes undergo this sort of abuse. And when the children have disabilities, the victimsare more vulnerable and less able to raise their voices, due to their physical and mental condition and of course, social stigma.
It was obvious that security, dignity and future prospects werethe prime concerns for the guardians. By passing the Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act 2013, creating the neurodevelopment disability protection trust and working with mainstream schools – the government has also started to play their part in creating a more inclusive society and giving youth with disabilities a normal life.