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#atozchallenge: Preeti, Whose Family Didn’t Like Her Dancing Without Her Feet

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge, I’m blogging 26 days in April based on the alphabet and bringing you stories from the nonprofit Project Why.

Damyanti Biswas talks about the Nonprofit ProjectWhy In the slums of New DelhiSome Project Why stories don’t have a happy ending, through no fault of the organization. They make me want to smash something. This is one of those.

Preeti was 12 when she came to Project Why. She had contracted polio as a toddler and lost the use of her legs.  Like all children, she found her way of coping and ‘mastered’ walking ‘on her hands’. It took some convincing but Preeti joined the Project Why Special Section.

Preeti’s early life must not have been easy. She did go to school at some point but then stopped. Being an extremely intelligent child, she had managed to pick up a lot during her short school years. When she came to Project Why she could read and write. She excelled in all activities, and caught up with her studies. It was obvious she could clear her Board Exams through the Open school. She could work at Project Why as a teacher or even in the office. Project Why got her to learn the use of a computer and she took to that like fish to water.

Being very friendly and a total extrovert, Preeti connected with volunteers and soon was speaking fluent English. She was now 16, beautiful, and well turned out. She could dance with a grace that would put many to shame: who needs feet to dance!

But once her brother got married, the new sister-in-law saw her as an impediment and burden. After the festivities of the wedding Project Why decided to register Preeti with the Open school and hoped that she’d be able to sit for her examination by the end of the year. The family thought otherwise. Preeti started missing school more often than before. Her mother had asked her to stay back to help the pregnant sister-in-law. Preeti was the ideal unpaid maid: she could do all the housework from cooking to cleaning without the use of her legs. She never sat for her exam, as she wasn’t ready. The next year there was the new baby to be looked after and then another. Preeti did every chore in the house.

Project Why tried to convince her mother that Preeti had immense potential and could get a well-paid job. This was vetoed by the family, because the idea of a disabled child doing better than anyone else was anathema.  Project Why registered her again hoping they could convince the family to at least let her sit for the exam. The family simply took her to their village.

Preeti hasn’t been heard from since.

I met her two years ago on a trip– a happy, smiling girl, great with the paintbrush, and generous to a fault. If Preeti’s story moved you, please consider donating to the Project Why SPECIAL SECTION.

To Contact Project Why to find other ways to help, Click Here

What would you have told Preeti if you could have spoken to her? Have you worked with people with special needs? How are boys and girls with special needs treated in your community?

Please join Daily (w)rite on its Facebook Page if you’d like to be heard by this community. If you liked this post, you can have biweekly posts delivered to your inbox: click the SUBSCRIBE button in the sidebar. The daily posts are only for April: I’m doing 26 posts on the fab nonprofit Project Why for my A to Z Challenge.

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • So heartbreaking. I don’t know what to say.

  • Rajlakshmi says:

    Oh no!!I can understand now why you felt like smashing something. What I can’t understand is how her own parents could do this 🙁

    A Whimsical Medley
    Twinkle Eyed Traveller

  • franklparker says:

    I’m torn by this one. On the one hand it is a sad story that illustrates the worst kind of selfish discrimination. On the other hand, do we have the right to impose our values on other cultures? Is it arrogant to say that we have it right and everyone else is wrong? I know what my gut says.

  • BellyBytes says:

    I’m not really surprised. Girls are expendable and those with disabilities even more so. This is the shame of a culture that prides itself on treating their women like ‘goddesses’. We are a bunch of hypocrites who only pay lip service to women’s empowerment, inclusiveness or the underprivileged and disabled etc etc.

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – it’s so desperate her family couldn’t see her potential and give her some hope and David’s comment is true too … thanks for telling us about Preeti – all the best Hilary

  • davidprosser says:

    What a shame Preeti was never allowed to reach her potential. With a well paid job she could have found a maid to help look after the family who were obviously ‘unable’ to look after themselves.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

  • Peter Nena says:

    Shame on that family. Brilliant kid, though.

  • So sad this brilliant young person didn’t get the chance she needed in life. I’ve seen this repeated so many times.

  • Joy says:

    I hope Preeti is okay!

    The Birthday Girl At The Joyous Living

  • Amy Putkonen says:

    I loved this story. Sad. There is much growth needed in the world! Tweeted it too. #AtoZChallenge.

  • Dan Antion says:

    This is when I feel I have to qualify that I pressed the ‘Like’ button because I appreciate your bringing this story to light. This is so sad.

  • I hope there was a happy ending for Preeti. Maybe her family learned to cherish her as Project Why did.

  • Carrie-Anne says:

    That’s such a depressing story, on so many levels. The idea of treating a disabled child’s potential like that seems as outdated to me as forcibly switching a left-hander. How do such attitudes still persist anywhere in the world? It’s also a stark reminder of how polio still exists and really is devastating, in spite of modern-day overprivileged anti-vaxxers giggling it off as no big deal.

  • How sad. They didn’t want her to achieve more, probably because she would take away all excuses. How selfish.

  • pawprintpetblog says:

    So sad to hear that Preeti has not been heard from for awhile. My mother works with special needs children and with a little extra assistance most of them grow up to be amazing, happy, functioning members of the community. I’m glad that people with special needs are treated well here, although I’m sure life isn’t always easy for them. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for someone like Preeti. I’ve never heard of Project Why but I’ll take a look at their site as well. Thank you for helping to raise awareness!

  • That is heart breaking. When I was in college, my professor was disabled. She said her parents always treated her no differently than her normal siblings. She had chores and expectations and never got pity or a pass because her legs didn’t work. Too bad Preeti’s family cannot see that she is full of potential and should have all the dreams of her other siblings.
    The Really Real Housewives

    • Thank you, Elizabeth for our comment. At Project Why we treat our disabled students no differently and encourage them to fulfil all of their potential despite the social stigma in India.