Javed Abidi – Tribute by Sheeba Abidi, his sister
India’s disability rights movement suffered a big setback earlier this month, when its pioneer, Javed Abidi, widely regarded as the father of the movement, passed away, suddenly. Starting today, we carry a series of tributes to Mr. Abidi by people who knew him closely. We begin the series with Sheeba Abidi, his sister.
Its not easy talking about my brother, but I will try. I will recall some of the happy memories just to share with you all.
Javed was, it sounds clichÃ©d, but nonetheless, he always had leadership quality from the earliest times that I can remember. This was maybe when I was six or seven, and he was four years apart. He was 11 or 10. He collected funds for an eye hospital in Aligarh and he collected the highest amount of funds, which was an event. He worked very hard on collecting those funds. He went to hostels. My father was the lecturer at Aligarh University, so he went to the hostels, he went in the neighbourhood and he collected quite a large sum of money for those times.
And then I recall another example where he collected funds for the drought relief fund, the Prime Minister’s Drought Relief Fund. And I remember that then he was around 15 or 16 and both my younger brother and I would tag along with him and we also helped him collecting funds. And by then my father was working in Delhi with the government and we came and donated the sum of money to the Prime Ministers Drought Relief Fund.
Another example that I recall is of elections and since my father was a Congressman he had gone for the elections and Javed decided that, “why should we just sit at home and not campaign?”. And so on his own and his bunch of friends, again me and my younger brother tagging along, we all went to the Congress party office in Aligarh and we said we want to campaign and we got a bunch of posters and then we made like you know with glue that you make with aata at home and we went around putting the posters and campaigning for the Congress party. Well, my father was too oblivious what was going on at home and he was travelling, and my mother was also somewhere, she was not in Aligarh, so that’s another memory that I have.
Then by the time he came to University, he did his PO from Aligarh university, so he was a debater. He was an excellent orator, he was also the joint secretary of the Retreat Club and he set up a which was very unique in those days. He set up a book club in Aligarh where students would bring in books that they really loved and share passages or poetry from their favourite books. It was called the Great Book Club.
Then he went to, he not only participated in debates in Aligarh, but he also went to other cities, notwithstanding his disability. He went to Kashmir, he went to Jaipur, he went to Baroda, he went to several cities to participate in debates. So those are some of my earliest memories of my brother.
Coming to his tenacity, there is an example that Javed has often used that of the woodpecker and he has talked about this at several seminars and workshops and conferences that you know you don’t give up, you just stay at it. And you keep on working at something like a woodpecker, like how a woodpecker starts with a scratch, decides on a trunk actually, the woodpecker decides on a trunk and then starts with a scratch and then a little bit of wood chips off and then maybe a small hole is created and you don’t realise before the woodpecker’s home is ready.
So, something like that so he believed very strongly in that in not giving up and he always had that quality in him. It was I think it was God-gifted thing which; I don’t remember him ever, ever complaining about anything. He was always gung ho, always upbeat about things.
He used to come daily almost daily to meet our mother at Gurgaon. Delhi to Gurgaon is about a two-hour drive and he would make that drive almost everyday, or every other day, just to have dinner with our mother, or have a cup of tea. He was paraplegic and he had health issues related to his disability, but he was always laughing and joking and pulling my niece’s leg, having fun with the nephews and with all of us, never letting anyone of us feel that he was actually a wheelchair-user.