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Do The Differently Abled Have To Be Extraordinary To Be Accepted In The Society?

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When a loved one is diagnosed with a medical condition, many questions emerge: How will they cope with the harsh realities of the world? How do you deal with someone who is different from others? How will this revelation impact your life? What does this mean for their future?

The term ‘disabled’ is often associated with people diagnosed with different kinds of intellectual and physical conditions. The word is not exactly incorrect – these conditions often restrict normal functioning in social situations. But are we right in calling them disabled?

We are not. People are not and should not be labelled as anything, least of all disabled. When someone is diagnosed with a condition (like autism), they are not autistic; they HAVE autism. People with intellectual or physical conditions are differently abled because they possess unique abilities and perspectives and can look at the world in ways unavailable to many of us. Who they are as a person is not impacted by their medical condition, and it surely does not define their identity.

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, has categorised ‘Persons with Disabilities’ into three categories:

  • Person with disability
  • Person with benchmark disability
  • Person with disability having high support needs

While “person with disability” is defined as “a person with long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment which, in interaction with barriers, hinders his full and effective participation in society equally with others”; “person with benchmark disability” means someone with at least 40% of a specified disability. “Person with disability having high support needs” refers to a person with benchmark disability who needs high support. The Act also covers all criminal charges against those who violate the rights of the differently abled or commit acts of violence against them.

Continuing efforts have been made by organisations and groups that are dedicated to the cause, to a better life for the differently abled, to level the playing field. Every now and then we come across an odd number of success stories, but have things really changed for all? Do they all feel the same as you and I?

According to the United Nations, around one billion of the seven-odd billion people on this planet live with disabilities – they are the world’s largest minority. Of this number, as many as 40-80 million live in India, although the underdeveloped infrastructure of this vast country makes it difficult for them even to be counted. But it is not just the system that can be harsh and unwelcoming; prejudice and the karmic belief that disabled people are at fault for their incapacity can affect their ability to lead a normal life.

Catherine Novi, Regional Coordinator for rehabilitation projects at Handicap International talks about the several instances when people have been socially ostracised because of the backward mindset of the society. In her work with various communities, she has found many who believe disability is caused by black magic or bad karma, as a result of wrongdoing in the disabled person’s former or current life.

At the centre she works in, mother of Shweta, a nine-year-old girl with spina bifida – a condition caused by incomplete development of the spinal cord or its coverings – says: “Something happened in her former life to make her disabled.” Superstition has for a long time held back the progress of this country. Bridled with non-scientific ideas, many families fail to accept their differently abled children; discrimination begins right at home.

India still has a long way to go before the needs of the disabled are sufficiently met, or even recognized. If we take a short wander around virtually anywhere in the country’s capital, you are faced with stairs or steep, uneven pavements with stalls intruding on their spaces, running alongside unruly traffic. Although it takes time to restructure a city, this goes on to show how inadequately equipped we are for a diverse world.

Yet there are stories of success. Every now and then, there is a Devendra Pal Singh (India’s first blade runner) or a Sudha Chandran (actress/ classical dancer) or a Sai Prasad Vishwanathan (co-founder of “Sahasra”), who come up in the news and lead us to believe that disability is only a way of thinking.

But the real question is, do the differently abled have to be extraordinary to be noticed and accepted by wider society? This question will be around for a while, but the process of change has definitely begun. Gradually, people are recognising the fact that, given the right conditions, everyone can be empowered. Things are looking up for the differently abled; even the very definition of disability has undergone so much change.

The Government of India has taken the responsibility of providing the optimal environment to ensure full participation of persons with disabilities. In this context, the Government of India has introduced a number of programs, schemes, concession, and facilities for the welfare of disabled.

  • The Indian Constitution ensures equality, freedom and justice and dignity of all citizens of the country including persons with disabilities which imply an inclusive society for all (Article 14).
  • Accessible Indian campaign or Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan has been launched with a focus on universal accessibility for a person with disabilities. It aims at bringing awareness about disabled and for their employment.
  • India is a signatory to UN convention on Rights of Persons with Disability, 2006.
  • To give effect to UN convention on Rights of Persons with Disability, the government introduced the Rights of Persons with Disability Bill, 2006. The bill replaced the existing Persons with Disability Act 1995, enacted some 21 years back. The bill was passed in 2016, and increased reservation for persons with disabilities in government jobs from 3% to 4%. The types of disabilities have increased from an earlier 7 to 21, and the Central Government has the power to recognise more types of disabilities.
  • National Scholarship scheme for persons with disabilities has been introduced.
  • The Deendayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme –an initiative of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment- aims to create an enabling environment to ensure equal opportunities, equity, social justice and empowerment of persons with disabilities, and to encourage voluntary action for ensuring effective implementation of the people with Disabilities Act of 1995.

Through these interventions, the Government of India has made it clear that, as upholders of an inclusive society, it is our duty to empower persons with disabilities so as to help them realize their true potential and reach the zenith in their field of action. Being empathetic by recognising their potential is the only way to support them, and this has to begin by changing the disability nomenclature from within.

About the author

Deepak Kumar is pursuing his Master of Business Administration at Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar. He is a Civil Engineer graduate, who has worked in the IT sector for about three years prior to his master’s degree.

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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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