50K TO MARRY in sickness and; in health

Money Won’t Guarantee Love, Say Couples

The state government may have the best of intentions by providing a monetary incentive of Rdisabled grooms 50,000 to anyone marrying a physically challenged person, but how far will it go in changing mindsets and breaking prejudices? Will such a scheme help integrate the disabled into mainstream society? Chandrakant Kalvint and his wife Swati, who have been married for 31 years, are sceptical, as such a move—they say—is not a long-term solution.   “Besides, the amount offered is too little, and will not address a lifetime’s need, especially if the spouse is suffering from a chronic problem. The money will run out,” says 68-year-old Chandrakant, who has made the best of the cards life dealt him. When he was only a year old, he was crippled by polio, and crutches became a way of life. While he got a job in Mantralaya, the impact of his disability was the felt the most when he began his search for a suitable wife. After many rejections, he found Swati, now 60 years, and today the couple has married off three daughters and are planning their son’s nuptials. “Fourteen years ago, I sustained an injury on my left leg after an accident. To make matters worse, two years ago my right hand stopped functioning because of hypertension, but my wife has stood by me,” says Chandrakant, who now runs a Thane-based NGO, Apang Maitri, for the physically challenged.

“We have been married for so long. We face each problem as it comes. I am proud to be his wife,” says Swati. A sum of Rs 50,000 would neither cover a quarter of the Kalvint’s medical expenses, nor would it be an incentive for Swati to remain in the marriage.    There’s no denying that in mainstream Indian society at least, there is a stigma associated with being differentlyabled. The Kalvints are an exception that tests the norm; unions between the physically challenged and the general population are rare. And it’s always harder on women who are differently abled. “There are plenty of opportunities for men who are physically challenged. But what are we doing for disabled women?” asks Dr Ravi Subbaiah, president of the Handicap Welfare Association. In his opinion, cracks in the marriage usually arise when the wife is physically challenged, but not the husband. “The sexual relationship the couple shares has to be taken into account. On one side there will may be frustration and on the other, there is guild,” headds.

“Money cannot buy or guarantee love and commitment,” say Kirti and Naresh Patange. Around 18 months ago, Naresh, a software engineer, suffered a near-fatal accident. He was attacked by a gang of robbers one night and was beaten with heavy iron rods. So brutal was the attack, that his skull cracked. “There was a lot of clotting in his brain, and recovery took months. He has lost his ability to speak,” says his wife, 33-year-old Kirti. The mental and financial toll strained family ties. “There were family problems because of the money we had to spend on the expensive treatment. It was only after we moved to Pune, away from my in-laws that Naresh’s stress levels dropped, and he began showing signs of improvement.”

Today, the couple has a baby girl and moved past a nightmarish year. “Though doctors say his nerves are damaged, and he will never recover his speech, I cannot help but hope it will return some day,” says Kirti. “Where there is love, money is useless. Instead, the government should provide employment opportunities to the differently-abled.”

Pratibha Masand Times of India, 9th October 2010

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