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A polio survivor’s plea to the state

This was late 1950 when polio in Pakistan was widespread, not only in the cities but also in the rural Pakistan. I being one of the victims of polio can easily explain the agonies of the deadly and lifelong disease of polio which not only affect one’s body but socially as well in a country like Pakistan.

Born in a far off village “Khaglanwala” of tehsil Easkhel of district Mianwali right on the banks of Kuram River on right side and facing the mighty Indus in the west, I saw myself to be a polio survivor and was taken to a nearby military hospital of Bannu for treatment as there was no hospital available in any of the areas in Mianwali.

Since my father was in navy, I had the opportunity to have some treatment like physiotherapy, muscles heating and rehabilitation process but for the poor victims, such facilities even today are not available in districts like ours.

Polio is a lifelong diseases and survivors have to face the agonies in his life both social and physical.

Socially, disabilities like of polio are hardly accepted when a polio victim or disabled by birth joins school. His social agonies start emerging as he’s openly labeled as disabled. Called with names like “Langra” “lulah”  “tunda”, such students are hardly ever mentioned with their real name. They are humiliated and discriminated in the society on the basis of disabilities.

Since its inception, Pakistani society has failed to develop sensitivities for the physically challenged persons. State as a whole has failed to protect their rights to be a healthy citizens.

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In 1980’s the then military ruler Zia ul Haq introduced an ordinance and reserved job quota for the disabled persons as his own daughter had a disability but the incompetent government machinery hardly implemented that job quota reserved for the physically challenged persons.

I remember that after graduating from University of Karachi, I tried to get a job on reserved quota for disabled person and dropped several applications in all the public sector institutions through the council for the rehabilitation of disable persons which was established in all the provinces and at the federal level remained ineffective and only useful for providing jobs to physically fit persons instead of provision of jobs to the physically challenged ones.

I never received response from any of the state-run organization, though they had several vacancies. It was also practice of the state-run institutions that the quota was filled internally by posting or appointing persons who became disabled during the service just to get facilities like tax free car for disabled persons or any other such facility, thus depriving a genuinely disabled person from their right to have a job against fixed quota.

Even today persons with disabilities can be seen running after the jobs reserved for disabled persons, as the institutions like national or provincial councils for the rehabilitation of disabled persons are infective.

Now coming back to the agonies of Polio, survivors of this deadly disease sometimes are victims of their own parents as they become liability due to severity of the disability. So much so that the parents of a physical challenged child often withdraw them from schools as they think education for them would not be beneficial. They sent them away to learn professions like tailoring etc.

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Since Pakistan is still struggling to provide basic facilities like health and education, which are responsibilities of the state, in this situation polio victims or physically challenged are the worst losers as they need constant rehabilitation process. As his or her age passes the health condition and health of the body deteriorates due to post polio syndrome. Nerves and muscles weaken gradually due to the post-polio syndrome and need regular consultation and rehabilitation.

For the proper treatment of such a condition is very expensive, rehabilitation facilities for polio victims are not only absent in villages but in a city like Islamabad also officials and government machinery posted there are just interested in their own perks and privileges. The buildings can be seen in posh sectors of Islamabad for the rehabilitation of disabled parsons but with proper modern facilities.

Tax free cars for the disabled person has become joke as the ministry of commerce has devised a cumbersome process which a physically challenged person can hardly fulfil. Board’s meetings for the import of a car hardly meet and take months to decide the fate of an application by a disabled person.

While concluding I must say it is the state that is responsible to protect the rights of the physically challenged persons therefore state machinery needs to be sensitized to respond to the needs of polio victim and physically challenged persons. State machinery shouldn’t be shy of responding to the needs of disabled persons.

At least for physically challenged persons state can act as a social state if it can’t respond to the needs of all citizen.

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Asmatullah Niazi

The author is a senior Broadcast Journalist and can be reached on email: [email protected]

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