A 24-year-old wheelchair-bound woman has entered the rural polls arena in Odisha’s Kendrapara district to prove the point that physical deficiency is no hindrance for serving the people. Call it empowerment of the physically challenged, Minati Barik, who depends on a wheelchair for mobility, is contesting the rural body polls for the ward member’s post from Bajapur village in Kantabania Gram Panchayat of Rajkanika Block.
Physical deformity is not going to pose a stumbling block for those who are physically challenged provided they have the will power and mindset for doing better for society through public service, Minati said traversing through the village for poll campaign.
“I would like to fight for the rights of the physically challenged. At the same time, I will take up the village’s problem if people elect me. My disability is not my weakness, it is my strength,” she said.
A motley crowd accompanied her in the campaign trail, as Minati travelled through the dusty lanes of Bajapur village.
“When she filed nomination papers, I was sympathetic towards her. I am now impressed with her guts and self-confidence. Initially we thought she will confine herself to home because of her immobility. But, now people are beginning to appreciate her zest and will power after she began campaigning on the wheelchair,” Narottam Sahu, a local resident, said.
“I have a bunch of goals for myself. One of my aims is to open a school and self-employment training centre for thedisabled people,” quipped Minati, exuding self-confidence. Minati was born with both her legs paralysed. But, as she grew up determination overpowered her disability. She read up to Class X.
She is also a member of a Self-Help Group in the village. With sheer hard work in the SHG, she has managed to become self-reliant by making crafts from ‘golden grass’ in the village, another villager, Narahari Barik, said.
“Minati’s entry in the election field has added a refreshing air into to the poll firmament. She has become a living example that nothing is impossible,” former sarapanch of Katanabania Panchayat Dhanjaya Das said.
“I was initially opposed to her decision. Now I am feeling proud that our daughter is contesting the elections. Seeing the support she is receiving from people while campaigning, I feel she took the right decision,” Minati’s father Balaram Barik said.
“The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), 2007 has granted physically-challenged people the right to political participation under Article 29, which pertains to both contesting and voting in elections. But in our country, no seat is reserved for the disabled person in any election. The government needs to wake up reserving seats for empowering people like Minati,” rights activist B K Pati said.