CHENNAI: They sometimes get odd roles in Kollywood movies. Perhaps only because their figure adds a ‘comic’ element to the screen. But when 50 persons affected by dwarfism came together here on Sunday, what they demanded was an opportunity to stand on their own legs and space to lead a dignified life.
“Even if they pay us half the amount (compared to normal persons), we are capable of working as peons, lift operators or help with other unskilled work in government offices,” said 52-year-old Ponnusamy. He had acted in around 50 movies in various languages and is a recognisable face in public places. But he preferred that those like him get jobs with stable income.
He and others with the condition, assembled from across 13 districts of the State, wanted to rewrite the script that sees only the ‘comic’ nature of their figure. They want to be seen as individuals who also have aspirations for a decent existence. Employment, more specifically in government sector, was one of the main demands raised at the first-ever conference for the dwarf community held at Chennai on Sunday.
The conference, organised by Tamil Nadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled and Caregivers (TARATDAC), saw over 50 persons from as many as 13 districts participating. The participants listed various grievances which prevent them from being independent.
As Ponnusamy indicated, one of the major issues they face is discrimination in employment. A situation faced by D Rajasekhar, a student of Bharathidasan University Model College in Thiruthuraipoondi was a case in point. In a couple of months, he would be passing out of college with a BA degree in English. Like many, he is determined to find a job to support his family of farmers.
The memory of a recent experience afresh, he stated, “I went for a campus placement interview to Tiruchy and sat for a private company. Following the interview, I was told I could work for them on a part-time basis. But after a few days, when I visited the office, the staff told me I was not capable of performing the job and rescinded the offer.”
Denial of jobs allegedly due to lack of physical growth has ensured that most of them are forced to shift between temporary jobs. Absence of a steady source of income has also led to difficulties in obtaining bank loans. T Siva, a resident of Saligramam, recalled an incident which happened a couple of months back. He along with 21 fellow dwarf persons approached a bank for a small loan of Rs 25,000 each.
“But, there was instant apprehensions, with staff citing security or collateral as an issue. It took a considerable time to convince them.”
The delivery of financial assistance by the government was identified as another challenge. S Aaben, 33, recalled the difficulties he underwent to claim the monthly allowance of `1000. He first submitted the application form in June, 2016. But, it was not until July of this year that his request was sanctioned. He stated, “During the intervening period, I visited the local Tahsildar office at least 20 times. I was told the file was lost and that the form had to be submitted afresh, which I did in July this year.”
The ordeal, however, did not end as the money could not be withdrawn easily. Although the money was deposited to his account, Aaben claimed that the bank staff did not allow him to withdraw the money through ATM. He was instead asked to come in person and provide a thumb-impression. He revealed that he had to give a ‘commission’ to the bank staff. “Both myself and Veni (his wife) had to give `25 as a ‘cut’ to obtain the allowance amount,” Siva said.
Siva and Aaben both get their allowance through the Vadapalani branch of Bank of Baroda. S Namburajan, general secretary, TARATDAC rued that nobody knew the actual number of dwarfs in the country. The census does not include specific data pertaining to this community.
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (2016) grants specific recognition to them, but it is still a struggle for rights.
It was this situation that led to the conference being organised. Three main resolutions were passed at the meet, namely the demand for special housing, free bus passes and rise of monthly allowance to Rs1500. “We intend to present our demands to the State Commissioner for Welfare of Differently-abled next week. We expect a positive feedback within a month, failing which we have no choice but to protest,” he said.
Know the condition
According to Little People of America (LPA), a US based advocacy organisation, dwarfism is a medical or genetic condition. The average height of an adult with dwarfism is 4’0, but typical heights range from 2’8 to 4’8 feet.
There are two broad types of dwarfism — disproportionate and proportionate. The most frequent cause is achondroplasia, a genetic condition that results in disproportionately short arms
Proportionate dwarfism, on the other hand, results in the arms, legs, trunk, and head being in the same proportion (relative size to one another) as in an average-size person. It is often due to a hormonal deficiency, and may be treated medically, resulting in an average or near average height. There are no treatments available for disproportionate dwarfism.