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Driving change in attitudes towards disability in Jammu-Kashmir - My Take by Dildar Ahmad Shapoo

When an injury sustained during a playful fight with his friend left him bed-ridden, life changed dramatically for Dildar Ahmad Shapoo. But he refused to let that get him down for long. Hear him tell his inspiring story on My Take.

On 5 September 1996, I was joking around with a good friend of mine when he pulled my hand in fun. It was just a playful gesture but I fell down backwards with a cry. My lower part became immobile.

I lived in a town in south Kashmir and after several hours I was taken to a hospital in Srinagar. After a month, doctors said I had sustained a spinal cord injury and would never walk again. I was 18 years old at the time, the eldest child, and my mother was a widow. I was also the sole breadwinner for my family.

That freak incident changed my life. For eight years I did not step out of my home and watched helplessly as my mother and younger brother struggled to make ends meet. There were no rehabilitation centres in Kashmir at the time and we had no information on what to do to deal with this. My family did the best it could, even putting the money together for a trip to Chandigarh for treatment. Nothing helped and I was confined to a bed in a room in my house.

My situation hit me hard when I got a bed sore and the doctor prescribed an ointment that cost Rs 2. I had to borrow that small amount from a friend. That's when I decided I had to do something. I took a loan from the bank, put the down payment on a truck and started a transport company with a friend. It wasn't easy and there ups and downs.

Travelling Samaritan

Over time I felt the need to connect with more people like me. I wanted to travel and meet people and motivate them. So I asked a Pune-based company to customise a car which I drove across India to promote the activities of the Spinal Foundation of India in 2015. Every day I would drive 500 kilometres to reach out to wheelchair users across the country, speaking at schools and NGOs. I saw how inaccessible India was for people with disabilities so a lot of my talks were about staying mentally strong and overcoming the many barriers we face.

The trip gave me a lot of confidence because I saw so many people like me. It motivated me to start an organisation with two of my friend who have spinal cord injuries. It is called Concerned About Rehabilitation & Empowerment - CARE, and the name says it all. The first project we will undertake after registering CARE is to build a rehabilitation home for disabled people so they can live happy, prosperous, and healthy lives.

We are currently in the midst of collecting information to create a database of people with spinal cord injuries in Jammu and Kashmir. Another project close to my heart is a story I have written which makes for a perfect Bollywood script. A love story, it is set in Kashmir of the nineties when the state was witnessing turbulence. If the script is bought, I will use the money towards the rehab project.

I am also in touch with many international organisations in my quest to ensure that people with disabilities in Kashmir are able to lead a life of dignity.

After much struggle, I have found purpose in my life and I want to empower others with disabilities. My only regret is that my mother passed away of cancer before she saw me like this.

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