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A Disturbing Personal Account Of The Kind Of Discrimination Disabled People Face

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By Kapil Kumar:

Discrimination Against Differently Abled PeopleAlmost all societies of the world have been hierarchised or stratified on different grounds. Some have their basis of differentiation in race, some in caste and some others in gender. In the midst of all these segments, disability has not been treated appropriately. Although a considerable number of people in this world are disabled, (an estimate provided by W.H.O. reveals that 10 to 15% of the global population constitutes of disabled persons) not much heed is paid to their needs or demands.

Leaving aside Western societies, where discrimination is majorly based on racial grounds, if one takes a closer look at India – religion, caste, gender and class are regarded to be the major basis of discrimination. Basically, the notion of division in humans is based on the principle of superiority and inferiority. Be it physical, intellectual, economic, biological or even on the basis of one’s skin colour.

The discrimination against disabled persons is predominantly grounded in the notion of ableism. The contours of ableism are determined by the criterion of physical fitness. Therefore, the term disability is perpetually up against the benchmark of ‘normal’. In this regard, Dr. Kessler in his book Rehabilitation of the Physically Handicapped written in 1953 observes, “The term normal is not a statistical concept, but a personal judgment in which we use ourselves as the standard, and the subject of our attention as the deviation from that standard.”

Ableism gives way to severe discrimination. By citing my personal experiences, I will try to demonstrate how even those who proclaim to sufferer from exclusion or discrimination themselves, won’t let go of a chance to look down at disabled persons.

Once I went to the market to buy bananas from a hawker. On asking the rate, he responded – for you especially, I have two categories of bananas, one that will cost you Rs. 30 and the other Rs. 35 for a bunch. A few minutes later, a passerby came and asked the rates of the bananas. Now the hawker replied that one category of banana would cost him Rs. 25 and the other Rs. 30. Surprised, I asked the hawker why he lied to me? He responded – I cannot tell a lie to you, so what if you are blind and cannot not see me, God is looking at me.

Here I ask a question from you all – was he really afraid of God? Did he not consider me a fool or vulnerable because of my disability?

While I was working in a college as an ad-hoc assistant professor in 2013, I had experienced discrimination by my fellow lecturers. My colleague, one particular Mr. Sharma, an upper caste, had the habit of sharing his lunch with others. He would pass his box to everyone, in turn, meticulously avoiding me each day.

There was another lecturer in that college – Mr. Behrva (belonging to the lowest caste order of Rajasthan.) This Mr. Behrva once had the onus of escorting me to the staff room. Throughout the way, he guided me with words and avoided my touch, keeping himself at a distance and instructing me to turn left, turn right, watch out, etc. Being guided thus was very insulting for me. I remember Behrva used to criticize the caste system quite vehemently because of the situation he had witnessed back home.

One of my blind friends, after getting recruited as a teacher in Bihar, decided to get married. Talks with a girl’s family were on, but when she discovered that her would-be husband was visually impaired she cried out – “Mujhe khute se Mujhe khute se bandvado, meri shadi rikshawala se karvado, chahe mujhe maar dalo, par meri shadi is andha se mat karvana” (tie me to a pillar, get me married to a rikshawala or kill me, but, do not marry me to a blind person).

I spell out these examples simply to point out that ableism is the worst form of discrimination that the disabled have to undergo on a regular basis. Moreover, such discrimination is not religion specific, nor caste specific and neither class specific. Those who are physically different must face the brunt of ridicule, stigma and discrimination irrespective of which strata of society they belong to.

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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.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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