31-year-old Rukaya: A wheelchair-bound 'Iron lady' inspiring confidence

Rukaya's father taking her to the shop by pushing her wheelchair in north Kashmir's Baramulla district. Photo: Mubashir Khan/ GK

A wheelchair-bound young woman who doesn’t let disability define her fate has become an example of hard work and self-reliance in Kunzer area of north Kashmir’s Baramulla district.

Photo: Mubashir Khan/ GK

Rukaya was three years old when she suffered Post Polio Residual Paralysis (PPRP) in her lower limbs, restricting her to the four walls of her house. Now 31, Rukaya is a proud owner of a grocery store in her native Batpora village, earning her the sobriquet ‘iron lady’.

Unlike many physically challenged persons who look for easy means of earning and are dependent on others, Rukaya chose to push herself and earn a decent living.

“I was 20 when I insisted my father open a shop for me and now I have been running it for eleven years,” she says.  

Photo: Mubashir Khan/ GK

“I didn’t choose to stay home and look for easy ways like begging and seeking donations. I always wanted to do something that makes my family proud,” Rukaya said while pulling down a packet of biscuits for a customer at her grocery store.

Rukaya says that her father has a lot of responsibilities besides her too. “I am the elder child of my parents and it hurts me to see my aged father earning to feed all of us, paying for the studies of my younger brother and also saving money for us,” says Rukaya.

Photo: Mubashir Khan/ GK

Every morning, Rukaya’s elderly father pushes her wheelchair till she reaches her shop, located in the vicinity of her home. 

Making sure that she doesn’t face any issue in selling the merchandise, Rukaya’s father got the shop designed in such a way that all things are placed at an arm’s distance from his daughter.

“The shop has been designed in a manner that my hand reaches every nook and corner of the shop,” she said.

Photo: Mubashir Khan/ GK

When Kashmir was put under a lockdown last year, Rukaya said she was depressed, fearing that she might never reopen her shop. However, she found a friend who motivated her. “I met Mohammad Sultan who is from a neighboring village. Sultan is also a physically challenged person and motivated me to continue saying that I can do wonders,” she said.

Rukaya has also started taking online classes now where she is being taught how to establish her own business. “I have learned a lot from these classes and have regained my courage,” she said.

Photo: Mubashir Khan/ GK

However, Rukaya finds driving the wheelchair by her father a burden.  “Now, I have applied for a three wheeler handicapped scooter and my application has been approved by Deputy Commissioner (DC) Baramulla. I may get that scooter within a week,” she said. “I suggest all the people like me become self-reliant and never make this disability as your weakness,” said Rukaya, who also does needlework embroidery on Pashmina shawls.