‘By God, I will not vote’: blind Kurd’s response to everyday discrimination

By Jegr Nathim:

Disabled people protest in Erbil, December 2013

Disabled people protest in Erbil, December 2013

Yesternight, my friend Ismail called me and in a broken tone told me that he is seriously thinking of committing suicide. Hearing this from my musician and fun-loving friend sent a shockwave through my entire body and moved me to tears of a bitter defeat. Like most of his fellow humans, he and a girl have fallen in love but, because he is blind, the girl’s family has refused to give him the object of his love in marriage. Thrice he has asked for her hand but to no avail. “I wish there was something that I could do about it, but what I can do?” Ismail said. “I wish her family judged me not on my condition but, as Martin Luther King said in his ‘I have a dream’ speech, on the content of my character.”

This is a common problem but not the only dilemma facing blind and other disabled people in Kurdistan. Being at the periphery of society, they have fallen victim to the widespread misconceptions and stereotypical images which the governing and the governed equally hold about them. “I sometimes wonder if Stevie Wonder, or David Blunket or Ray Charles or Jorge Luis Borges were born here, what would have happened to them? I think like me, they would have been considered curses on their families by their parents,” says Goran, who wanted to be a software engineer but was denied entry to the scientific lessons in his high school because of his condition.

One of the few blessings of blindness is that appearances cannot work their sometime deceitful magic on you! For all its claims of prosperity and being the oasis of calm in an Iraq  gripped by violence and sectarianism, Kurdistan is one of the most miserable, lawless places to live in, especially for blind people who are leading a Darwinian struggle to survive. Let me tell you some more of their stories. As a blind woman, my sister faces a double discrimination in her life. When she was a child, my family played Plato’s philosopher-king on her by prohibiting her from going to school because was a blind girl, and even her appearance in society could bring shame on her noble family! So she grew up illiterate but, after screen readers became available, I taught her English and she is now reading about Alice Munro’s dear life. When I explained her situation to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG’s) minister of education and told him of her desire to go to college, he said, “Why should a blind woman study?”

Even those blind people like me who are lucky enough to go to college, will find not one accessible textbook and have to rely on their classmates to interpret the textbooks for them and, after graduation, their chances of finding meaningful employment is very, very nil. The most dangerous form of discrimination against the disabled here is a legal one. I am a graduate of law school and, according to article 35 of the judicial authority regulation act, both in Iraq and Kurdistan, I cannot become a judge or a prosecutor, simply because I am blind. Nor can a blind person be even a hearing witness in any lawsuit, including those in which he is a litigant. Our appeal to some parliamentarians to amend such discriminatory articles went unnoticed. Despite the enacting of the disability rights legislation by parliament in 2011, not a single article of its 22 articles has been implemented until now. When the bodyguards of our eminent prime minister so heroically quelled a demonstration of the disabled – which was demanding the implementation of the aforementioned legislation – on 3rd December 2013, and dumped them outside Erbil, KRG spokesman Safeen Dizayee told me: “We will not implement this unrealistic law which is prepared by some ignorant parliamentarians.”

A few months ago, thanks to the greed of a member of our royal family, my small investment collapsed and I had to look for a job. Among those I tried to work with was basnews. After they tested my translation skills from Kurdish to English via a link which they had sent to me and told me it was “brilliant,” they interviewed me. However, seeing that I was blind, they started to find excuses, saying, “We can pay you only 400 USD and this is nothing compared to your immense talents, so we advise you to find somewhere else.” I am not going to tell you about my other job interviews, which included two oil companies, an English language teaching center and a famous website all of which, of course, didn’t go better than the basnews one, but I only want to ask this question, the answer to which terrifies me every day. What if I haven’t been from an affluent family? Should I have become a beggar, even with my law degree? I asked Ismail whether he will vote. “No, by God I will not! Because nothing will change for me,” he said.

Jegr Nathim:  Born in 1988 and living in Hawler, he graduated from Salahaddin University’s law college (“where they taught us for four years how not to think!”) last year. Occasionally he writes book reviews for ‘Lvin’ magazine and articles for ‘Awene’ newspaper.

One Response to ‘By God, I will not vote’: blind Kurd’s response to everyday discrimination
  1. kurd
    April 27, 2014 | 18:33

    I sympathy for your Mr.Ismail ‘s friend and your sister, I have cried to their unpleasant stories for several minutes…
    And then you should tell them whisper with Friedrich Nietzsche:

    And when one giveth the blind man eyes, then doth he see too many bad things on the earth: so that he curseth him who healed him

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