Girlhood To Marriage – Silencing The Stigma Around Disability

As a young girl with a disability, this author found that bullying takes many forms - and marriage brings its own share of shaming women for their imperfections.

Growing up as a girl with a club foot, I was determined to defy stereotypes and excel in academics, sports, and every aspect of life. But as a girl with a disability, this pursuit of academic success took on an added significance, a chance to be one among the so-called normal people. It wasn’t just about achieving good grades; it was about proving to the world that my disability did not define me, nor would it hold me back from pursuing my dreams.

Looking back now, at the age of 58, I find it hard to believe that there was ever a time when my club foot or slight limp consumed my thoughts and defined my identity. These physical attributes no longer hold any power over me; they are simply a part of who I am, neither hindering nor defining me in any way.

But in my childhood and teenage years, it was a different story. Back then, the stares and whispers of others served as constant reminders of my disability, threatening to overshadow all other aspects of my personality and achievements. It was as if people couldn’t see past my physical differences to recognize the myriad talents and abilities that lay beneath the surface.

Labeled ‘the disabled girl’…

I excelled in sports, often outpacing my peers despite my physical limitations. I was a skilled artist and crafter, pouring my creativity into every project with passion and dedication. And yet, despite all of this, I was still labeled as the “disabled girl,” but fortunately I was never relegated to the sidelines while others took center stage. My family and school took care to see that I get my share of attention for the right reasons. 

In general, people around me were not so supportive. It was a frustrating and disheartening experience, one that made me question the fairness of the world around me. Why were people so quick to judge me based on something as superficial as my appearance, ignoring all of the other qualities and talents that made me who I was? But instead of allowing myself to be defined by the narrow-mindedness of others, I chose to rise above it.

I refused to be sidelined or marginalized because of my disability, instead channeling my frustration into a fierce determination to prove myself on my own terms. And prove myself I did. I became the fastest runner in my category, leaving my competitors in the dust as I raced towards the finish line. I earned top marks in my classes, demonstrating time and again that my disability was no match for my intellect and determination.

Despite my parents’ best efforts to shield me from the cruelty of others, the reality of living with a disability meant that I couldn’t escape the occasional taunt or cruel remark. Yet, in their unwavering support and protection, my parents instilled in me a sense of resilience and determination that would prove invaluable in the face of adversity. As I ventured out into the world, I soon realized the pain that these hurtful words inflicted not only upon myself but also upon my parents, who bore witness to my struggles with a heavy heart. It was a burden that I could not bear to see them carry, and so I made it my mission to shield them from the full extent of the bullying that I faced.

In the face of adversity, I refused to be a passive victim. Instead, I adopted a strategy of defiance, meeting the taunts and jeers of my tormentors with a steely resolve. If they sought to belittle me, I would not hesitate to fire back with a cutting retort of my own, refusing to cower in the face of their cruelty.

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But my response wasn’t limited to mere words; I also took decisive action, refusing to suffer in silence while others sought to diminish me. I made it a point to report instances of bullying to my teachers and the HM, refusing to allow the perpetrators to go unpunished. And while it may have taken time, my efforts eventually paid off, and the bullying gradually subsided as my tormentors realized that their actions would not be tolerated.

Despite the challenges I faced, I remained steadfast in my commitment to my studies and extracurricular activities. I diligently completed my assignments, kept my books meticulously organized, and eagerly participated in school activities and sports. And it was my dedication and hard work that earned me the admiration of my teachers and classmates alike, making me a favorite both at home and at school.

Through it all, the protective embrace of those around me served as a source of strength and encouragement, buoying my spirits in moments of doubt and uncertainty. With their unwavering support, I found the courage to confront adversity head-on, refusing to be defined by the limitations that others sought to impose upon me. But that was not the -’They lived happily ever after” ending.

The return of bullying in adulthood

The cycle of bullying that had plagued my childhood seemed to rear its ugly head once again when I entered into marriage, only this time, the perpetrators were not children but adults, and their tactics were far more insidious.

It was my mother’s plan to arrange my marriage before I had the chance to pursue my dreams of higher education and a career. She feared that my ambitious aspirations would lead me far from home, leaving everyone behind. And so, with a mixture of apprehension and resignation, I found myself betrothed, my fate seemingly sealed before I had the chance to chart my own course in life.

Despite my reluctance, I acquiesced to my mother’s wishes, but not without setting some conditions of my own. I made it clear that no dowry would be given to the groom, a decision that was accepted by my parents. Additionally, I resolved to eschew the trappings of luxury and extravagance, refusing to squander my dad’s hard-earned resources on frivolous pursuits in name of marriage.

And so, against all odds, the marriage ceremony took place, fulfilling my mother’s desires but leaving a bitter taste of resentment in the air. My in-laws, accustomed to the traditions viewed my stance with disdain, seeing it as a rejection of their expectations and customs.

But for me, it was a matter of principle. I refused to perpetuate a system that devalued women and reduced them to mere commodities to be bought and sold. I refused to bow to societal pressure and conform to outdated norms that had no place in a modern, progressive society.

And though my decision may have caused tension and discord within my new family, I stood firm in my convictions, determined to carve out a life for myself that was true to my beliefs and values. For me, marriage was not about submission or capitulation; it was about partnership and mutual respect, grounded in a shared commitment to equality and dignity.

Stepping into my new home, I was immediately confronted with the stark reality of my disability. From the moment I crossed the threshold, I could feel the weight of judgment and prejudice bearing down on me like an oppressive cloud.

The taunts and jeers came swiftly, cutting through the air like sharpened blades. I was labeled an ill omen, blamed for any misfortune that befell the household. It seemed as though my disability had become a source of gossip, the snack they needed with their chai. 

But amidst the darkness, I knew that I could not allow myself to be defined by the narrow-mindedness of others. I understood that there would come a time when I would need to draw a line in the sand, to stand up for myself and refuse to let anyone trample upon my dignity or self-worth.For too long, I had endured the cruelty of those who sought to diminish me because of my disability. But as I stood in the threshold of my new home, I resolved to put an end to the cycle of abuse and discrimination once and for all. I knew that it would not be easy. There would be those who would seek to undermine me at every turn, who would scoff at my attempts to assert myself and demand respect. But I was determined to hold my ground, to show them that my disability did not define me, nor would it ever hold me back from standing up for myself. 

“Even though she is disabled, she is so proud!”

One day, the time came for me to start the battle for my dignity. One audacious lady, a friend of my mother-in-law, paid me a visit. After inquiring about my parents, who hailed from the same place as hers, she brazenly asked, “Can you lift your sari a little and show me your foot? I heard that you have a handicap and want to see how bad it is.” That was the final straw. I responded calmly, “Do you want me to lift my sari a little? Why don’t we start the ritual with you? Lift your sari first and show me everything is good with you and nothing is disfigured.” My mother-in-law interjected angrily, “What nonsense are you talking about? Show some respect for her age.”

And in response, I retorted, “Age is nothing to be respected, because even rapists, murderers, and all kinds of evil people become old, like the ones standing in front of me here. It is the character that should be respected. Unfortunately, someone asking me to lift my sari and show my foot doesn’t deserve it, and please do not expect me to either do it nor to apologize, because that is not happening.” Despite my anger, I remained calm and firm. 

The lady retorted under her breath, “Even though she is disabled, she is so proud.” By then, many women from his family had gathered and started blaming me for being rude and outspoken, despite the fact that the man showed sympathy by marrying a girl with a disability without dowry or any expectations. However, I no longer felt insulted.

“I am not sure who is disabled here,” I calmly stated. “I can walk on my feet, I am capable of earning my own living, and I am able to manage and handle my life independently. How many of you can say the same? You are dependent on others to even change a light bulb. You cannot read the forms you are signing. You do not have a voice to speak for yourselves. You simply try to please others so that they will take care of you. For me, this kind of disability is worse. Don’t try to bully or harass me, because I will not tolerate it.”

Despite my assertion they continued their attempts to undermine me, had their own meetings to discuss me and how my husband would “teach me a lesson” when he returned. Fortunately for him, he did not take their side. In fact, he was very angry that someone had the audacity to say such things to me. The matter ended there. 

Recognizing that I would not be easily bullied, the dynamic shifted. They resorted to talking and creating drama behind my back. Once again, I made the conscious decision to shield my parents from the hurt, never burdening them with the details of the ongoing turmoil. Instead, I honed my ability to defend myself when necessary and learned to discern when to simply ignore the noise.

And though my decision may have caused tension and discord within my new family, I stood firm in my convictions, determined to carve out a life for myself that was true to my beliefs and values. For me, marriage was not about submission or capitulation; it was about partnership and mutual respect, grounded in a shared commitment to equality and dignity.

In the end, my refusal to compromise my principles served as a testament to my strength and resilience, a reminder that I would not be silenced or subjugated by the expectations of others. And though the road ahead may be fraught with challenges and obstacles, I face it with a sense of pride and determination, knowing that I am the architect of my own destiny. Gradually, the malicious gossip began to fade into the background, losing its potency over time. It was a testament to my resilience and refusal to be cowed by their attempts to undermine me.

Reflecting on my experiences, I hold onto hope that our society will evolve beyond petty gossip and narrow-minded attitudes towards those facing challenges. I envision a world where empathy, understanding, and inclusivity prevail, allowing everyone to thrive regardless of their circumstances. It’s a vision worth striving for, one where every individual is valued and respected for their unique abilities and contributions.

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About the Author

Farida Rizwan

I am Farida Rizwan, 57, Counselor and Psychotherapist working as Senior Curriculum Developer with Chimple Learning. I am the founder of My Giggle Garden, Preschool, and Daycare. I am an ardent blogger read more...

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