Sixteen-year-old Arwa Imtiyaz Bhat from Kashmir valley is an immensely talented Class 10 student who gives voice to players who can’t speak or hear. Daughter of an auto rickshaw driver, Arwa first grabbed headlines, last year, when she helped a group of hearing and speech impaired badminton players by becoming their voice. A master of the sign language and an avid learner, Arwa helps players communicate. She is often seen at tournaments or travelling across the country with the players who need her help. She doesn't charge a fee for her work, she does it for sheer happiness. So far, she has played an active role in the J&K team winning four gold, three silver and two bronze medals in the National Games for the Deaf in Ranchi. Some edited snippets from our conversation with Arwa.
You are still a student and living in Srinagar. What inspired you to become the voice of the hearing and speech impaired sportspersons in the state?
My mom is specially-abled and when she used to talk to me through sign language, in my childhood, I used to not able to get her. Gradually, I started understanding her hand movements. So you can say it is because of my mother that I choose to be the voice of hearing and speech impaired people and yeah, I want to say that my mother is my inspiration and this is the job I want to do.
It is because of my mother that I choose to be the voice of hearing and speech impaired people.
You're sign language savvy, which helps you communicate with specially-abled players. Where did you learn it and why?
This is all because of my mother. I didn't take any classes in sign language, I learnt this from my mother by seeing how she communicates with the help of hand gestures. I picked up the sign language with time and now I am well versed in it.
I didn't take any classes in sign language, I learnt this from my mother.
You're associated with the All Jammu & Kashmir Sports Association of the Deaf. How do you balance your study and work?
I do both... I study because I am a student and I want to learn more and more in my life and on the other hand, I also help the people in need because I love my job.
For your work you have to travel across the country. At 16 how do you manage to do that?
In the beginning, it was very tough for me to balance both my family and studies because I have to travel excessively. But eventually I managed, now I understand the way I have to juggle it all. I also manage the time for my studies because in today's world knowledge is what keeps us updated, informed and makes us wiser in our decisions.
The world only needs a well-educated person who is able to do anything with his/her own intelligence and hard work.
What are the major challenges you have faced so far? Do you also have to deal with any financial stress in the family?
There are many financial challenges in my family. My father is an auto rickshaw driver, my mom is a housewife, my elder brother is also an auto rickshaw driver and my youngest brother is a student in Class 5. We suffer to make the ends meet as my father's earning is as low as Rs 200 per day. And honestly some days, my father doesn't get any money so we all sleep empty stomach and wait for the next day for him to earn some money. Sometimes, it makes me cry when I see the situation of my family... Even when I am travelling for the job my uncle pays the bills. I always think that one day I will become successful and make them happy and will fulfill their every dream.
When the teams win, how do you feel? What does this job mean to you?
When I started doing this job my father, my grandmother and my paternal uncle didn't support me because they believed it'll hamper my studies. But I convinced them. My school and teachers are unhappy when I go off to tournaments across the country and miss my classes.
My love for this job is stronger and it's growing on me every day.
What do you think India lacks in terms of being more inclusive for people with disabilities?
Coming from a financially backward family, having missed out on most of the fun childhood activities, due to financial constraints, I am brought up in an atmosphere where people make fun of the disabled. Disability is an important issue, especially in a developing country like India. The society lacks conviction in appreciating the struggles of the differently-abled. I have seen my mother being made fun of because of her disability and people teasing her for her condition, it's an everyday struggle.
Disability is an important issue, especially in a developing country like India.
My motto is to give back to the society and help as much as I can. My aim is to study medicine, but that's far from reality we all know that. Hopefully, one day, I'll be praised for my job and the struggle will end.