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What Persons With Disability In India Really Need (Definitely Not Your Charity)

India is home to 21 million people living with some disability or the other. According to the data published by the 2001 Census, this forms 2.1% of the Indian population. On December 16, 2016, the Lok Sabha passed the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill which increased the listed number of disabilities from seven to 21 and stipulated a jail term and fine for discrimination against persons living with disabilities. It is then pertinent to question our perspective on the way we view a person with disability. More often than not, charity is seen as the right way of dealing with the insensitivity of general public towards a person with a disability. The phrase ‘person with disability’ itself is the product of the struggle of several disability rights activists who’ve fought the world to put the ‘person’ before the ‘disability’. But the question we need to ask is: has the Disability Rights Movement, which took birth alongside the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, found favor in India?

The answer to this has to be examined from the viewpoint of the person with disability. The use of terms like ‘divyangjan’ that precede any social security initiative unveiled by the government is a clear departure from the social model that lays emphasis on the strengths and abilities of an individual with disability. Disability activists are of the opinion that the persons with disability are looking for ‘parity and not charity’. Labelling of persons with disabilities has been found to have a negative effect on their productivity according to research. Early on in life if a child is called a ‘slow learner’ and excluded from regular interaction with other students, it can have a devastating impact on the child’s social adaptability and interaction skills.

The attitude of the general public towards persons with disabilities is that of sympathy and not empathy. This explains why the public transport users vacate their seats for persons with disability but occupy the seats reserved for them at the same time. I had conducted a study on accessibility issues faced by the persons with disabilities traveling in the Mumbai metro, as a student of disability studies in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Lack of empathy turned out to be the most quoted problem they faced, followed by things like unhelpful signs, hostile co-passengers, and infrastructural problems like absence of ramps, poorly constructed elevator landings, and pathways that won’t allow smooth passing of wheelchairs. The anomalies associated with lack of proper infrastructure are many, and they come with dire consequences for those dealing with the inadequacies of the system on a daily basis.

The disconnect between the essential services and the means of reaching the services severely affects the independence of the person with disabilities and compels them to compromise their independence. We need to remember that the most valued thing for any individual is his freedom. The Accessible India campaign is a step in the right direction for the redressal of accessibility issues.

Access audits of important government buildings frequented by local people should be conducted. Access audits ensure that the infrastructure is accessible to a wider section of the population including the elderly, pregnant women and children. India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), Article 9 of which ensures that people with disabilities get access to not only physical infrastructure but also information, communication technology, emergency services and transportation. Provision of accessible infrastructure not only helps persons with disabilities but also benefits pregnant women, elderly and children.

There is a need to spread awareness about the lived experiences of persons with disabilities. Exhibitions, formal meetings in the neighborhood, and the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the welfare board of residential colonies are important and necessary steps that need to be taken. In the event of an emergency, it is necessary to devise steps to evacuate the persons with disabilities on a priority basis.

Observing a person with disability doing everyday chores feels like a miracle to the uninitiated, but if you try talking to a person with disability, you will realise that this is just everyday life for them. Differentiating the miracle from the mundane is where making a difference should begin. To quote the eminent activist Lilla Watson: “If you are here to help me, you are wasting our time. But if you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

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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 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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