Nagamani Gandreti. Photo: Bharath Sai/Mint

Her relatives’ small, cement-block home was located next to a school. As a child, Gandreti remembers longingly watching other children going to classes. Since her entire family was illiterate, she was never enrolled, nor encouraged to attend school. “They asked me what I would do with it (education)," she remembers. “They thought education was a waste because I was disabled—that I’d never do anything in life."

But Gandreti would prove them wrong. At 10, she took matters into her own hands and enrolled herself, walking to school every day with the help of crutches to study alongside children half her age. Painstakingly, she was able to train her hands to write by clutching the pen in her palm. A visiting district magistrate recommended Gandreti’s transfer to a school for children with physical disabilities in Hyderabad. At 23, she completed class XII, and began looking for work.

After initial difficulties, a friend recommended she participate in a vocational training programme for people with disabilities—at the Centre for People with Disability Livelihoods (CPDL)—which facilitated her employment as a shop assistant at a distribution center for Spencer’s, a retail chain.

Now 26, Gandreti is the highest earner in her family, and among the first of them to work in the formal sector. She continues to study, and is in the process of earning a bachelor’s degree through correspondence.

“I want to buy a home for my father," Gandreti says. Back in the village, her family no longer makes fun of her. “Now my aunt talks to me—she’s always asking when I’ll come back to visit," Gandreti says.

“They respect me because I have a good job."

Malia Nora Politzer

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