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Take A Guess: How Many Differently Abled Children Made It To School This Year?

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By Nandika Kumari and Ujjwal Gupta

We dedicate about 14 years of our lives at school – 9 months of every year and at least 6 hours of each day! The influence of the time spent at school greatly defines us as individuals. Our mind is a heap of impressions. We gather everything that we come in touch with, be it in sleep or in wakefulness. Our thoughts are a product of the experiences that we have had; a synopsis of the data and information that we have gathered. Even what we refer to as an epiphany or a Eureka moment, is just another permutation and combination. Quite evidently, our milieu plays an inextricable role in our lives.

child in school

So, if the very foundation of a school were based on acceptance, equality and inclusion, wouldn’t we be more likely to internalize these qualities? If we were introduced to and raised in an inclusive environment from an early age, wouldn’t equality be more likely a part of our very DNA? That is part of the reasoning behind the Right to Education Act (RTE) in India, which makes education free and compulsory for ALL children up to the age of 14 years.

The Act makes special mention of children with disabilities/challenges, mandating free education for them from the ages 6 to 18 years in what we know as ‘mainstream’ schools. While the primary rationale behind this move is to ensure that children with challenges can have access to educational facilities at their convenience, an equally important consequence of the legislation is the encouragement of an inclusive environment in school and consequentially in society.
[su_pullquote]Ideas buzz like bees
I too, understand the world
But not like you
Implementation of the RTE Act began on 1st April 2010, and since then 230 million children have been enrolled in schools under it. While this is clearly a large number, the reality is dismal with regard to children with challenges. According to an (2012) Oxfam India study, almost no records are kept of the enrolment of children with challenges under the RTE, either by the concerned school or the Department of Public Instruction, making it impossible to know how many of them have actually been enrolled at school. The predicament of children with challenges is further exacerbated as all disadvantaged children are pooled together under one category by the RTE. This results in the majority of seats being occupied by scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes. A study conducted in 2013 by National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) did not find even a single visually impaired child among the 84 sample schools surveyed.

The infrastructure at most schools across the country is physically inaccessible for children with challenges – there are no ramps, disabled-friendly toilets, wide doorways etc. Teachers are not appropriately sensitised or trained, and there is a severe lack of specialised educational material. The NCERT study found that special educational material for children with challenges was non-existent in sample schools. Some cases have been documented where authorities have not sent this education material when requested by schools, indicating deep-rooted lethargy and apathy at multiple levels of the system.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Laughter rings happily
Two friends share a quiet secret
I am accepted
The inclusion of children with challenges also has significant value in encouraging an inclusive milieu at school. Such a milieu would allow children to truly experience and internalize inclusion as an existential reality, instead of it being taught as a moral idea. It would encourage children to interact with peers coming from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. As a natural corollary, the ‘abled’ are likely to develop a more inclusive consciousness.

Inclusion benefits everybody. Every person stands to gain from supporting inclusion in schools. An inclusive environment is fundamental to the creation of a level playing field of opportunities that would allow every child to reach their fullest potential. It is not the responsibility of children with challenges and their caregivers to fight for this alone. Every student is directly involved and affected by this and must mobilise to ensure genuine inclusion – have conversations with your friends, take it up with school authorities, start a petition, write a blog! However, most importantly question your own beliefs and to quote a bespectacled wise man – be the change you want to see.

About the authors: Nandika volunteers at the Amrit Foundation of India. Having graduated with a Masters of Science in Human Rights from the London School of Economics, she is currently working in the fields of gender and disability rights.

Ujjwal volunteers at the Amrit Foundation of India. Having graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Management from the University of Warwick, he is currently interested in the study of marginalized groups particularly the inclusion of sexual minorities.

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  1. Chris Dee

    Thank you for these salient points– in writing articles such as this, Amrit is already beginning to speak up for those who are most excluded. Your point about engendering an inclusive attitude using schools as the main avenue is particularly strong.

    That being said, how do you think can this be achieved? Are there more systemic barriers in place than just apathy towards children with disabilities? How can we simultaneously sway the hearts of teachers, parents, and peers? How, practically, do we ensure that indeed this “existential reality” is teased out of the “moral idea”?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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