She helps those who help themselves - Former legislator inspires physically challenged to lead independent lives

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  • Published 5.07.04

Dibrugarh, July 5: This is the heart-warming story of a group of physically challenged people who have overcome the odds to rise and shine. This is also the story of a woman’s crusade to help these people stand on their feet.

When former legislator Jyotsna Sonowal first visited Mohanaghat, 10 km from this Upper Assam town, about seven years ago, she found a society besieged by evils such as alcoholism, drug addiction and gambling. She realised that the illiterate and impoverished residents of the area required somebody to guide them out of the mess.

As the founder of the Dibrugarh-based NGO Pragati Sangha, Jyotsna decided to take on this responsibility herself.

“One day, I came across a family with three siblings who were physically challenged. The eldest, Arati Dutta, was visually impaired, while her two brothers Ratan and Badan were verbally challenged,” Jyotsna recalled.

The social worker spoke to the family and expressed her desire to do something for them.

The result was the formation of the area’s first self-help group of physically challenged people. It had five members, including the three siblings.

“Though people initially had doubts about the project, I was able to gain their confidence with a little coaxing. After that, all five members were trained to sew jute bags, which gave them good returns. Today, all of them have individual bank accounts and continue to be members of the self-help group, which ensures a steady income. Their success gives me a lot of satisfaction,” Jyotsna said.

She formed five more self-help groups with physically challenged people over the past one-and-a-half years. Apart from these six groups, her NGO guides six women’s self-help organisations. Each one has between 10 and 15 members.

Being a former legislator from Sadiya constituency, Jyotsna was initially suspected to be furthering her political ambitions in the guise of social work. But committed as she was, the rumours did not faze her.

“My husband is a government doctor and he was transferred to Mohanaghat seven years ago. When we came here, the condition of the area was appalling. But nobody was willing to come forward to help. Therefore, I began my work with children and formed moina parijats (children’s groups) to create an atmosphere of trust and goodwill. It worked. The women realised what I was trying to do and that was the turning point,” she recalled.

Jyotsna said the state government’s policy of arranging loans for self-help groups helped her project. Each of the six self-help groups of physically challenged people received Rs 25,000 each from the government to begin their work. A bank later gave them Rs 1 lakh each, apart from donating sewing machines. All these groups now make dolls, jute bags, decorative items and pickles.

Basking in the success of the project, Jyotsna said: “I have always maintained that help will always come to your doorstep if you work hard. Considered a burden a year ago, these people are now self-sustaining individuals.”