A Paper presented in India Development Coalition of America (IDCA), Oak Brook, Chicago,IL, USA
Indian Disability activist SAI PADMA MURTHY
Disability is never an easy subject, especially for people suffering with it. It is multi-dimensional. I am disabled and challenged since 35 years. I am 35 years young born to a doctor couple. We live in a village. Life in rural India with disability is an experience every day. From people staring at you as if you are like an UFO to people who comment at you saying: Are you like this from birth? They say it’s their way of caring. So we shouldn’t have any complaints. To add another social aspect to it, there are people who say to me casually… that disabilities and deformed children are common when caste of mother and father is not the same. I used to wonder is it so? My father patiently answered one day that… it’s a myth. Actually its other way around when you marry a close relative disability/deformity may occur. There are many doctors and rehab specialists here. You all know better.
In India, fight with challenges begins with fight with ignorance of your own, and of environment and the system around you. System is insensitive to the needs. For many years I was denied access to any Hindu temple because I wear braces made of metal and leather and I can’t walk without them and I refused to be carried by someone like a baggage. Oh! I forgot to mention wheelchair can’t go in to a temple because of steps, small and big as well.
I started my journey in to disability activism like that. It’s a catch22 situation for me. And for so many challenged in India. I am interested in academics, so I finished a degree in management and finance and again I have to. Time and again I have to write to universities and seek permission from them to have classes and exams in the downstairs. Most of the time I was the only one who is writing exam in ground floor office surrounded with lots of files and people talking all around me. Anyway.. I am so proud that I am highly educated. In most parts of south India where I belong, people are relatively highly educated. At least parents who can afford that they gave the best of education to their children. My parents are no exception. So now the story is that I need a job. I was so confident that with the academic degrees I have, and willingness to work hard. People would invite me to the jobs just like that. Today let me share with you some of my trials to get a creamy job:
- In one interview with a big corporate I was asked, how I would get down the steps in case of emergency like fire/lift not working etc.. I said I would climb down. The interview officer asked “How?” I said “ The same way I came, your lift is not working today also!” I was turned down the job on the grounds that I lack ability to be efficient. It took me 1 hour to climb the steps and be on time for the interview!
- In an interview with small company, they turned me down as they saw me on a wheel chair saying.. They can’t provide seating for my office work on the down stairs. And they were sorry.
- In one government agency I was disqualified as I am having 80% disability according to their norms. They can only take people who have disability up to 70%. And they hired a person with a 6th finger as he is disabled according to their norms.
- I couldn’t attend one interview in time as my wheelchair is struck in restroom’s narrow door and it took two hours for 2 people to take me out of it safely.
- When I got posting as a management trainee, I couldn’t join as they allotted me a place where it is impossible for me to go and join.
- One of my friend, who is much qualified than me, really frustrated with the job market and discrimination at the work place, opened a small tutorial in the front yard of the house. Today he is highly successful professionally. Not so successful economically. Bears the stress of a job with no retirement benefits and certainty in future.
- There are several such people.
So the problem of getting a right job despite having qualifications is a problem not only for me for many challenged in India. I questioned my self, if this is the condition of a person like me, who has educated parents and fairly understanding environment and good qualifications… what is the condition of persons with disabilities living in rural areas?
I worked with Vijay Pratham, an educational initiative in 250 villages of vizianagaram district. In monitoring of the educational volunteers closely I am able to watch most physically challenged, their performance, their aspirations and their hopes.
- We have given utmost importance to employ qualified challenged of the village as educational volunteer.
- There is a focus shift they way their family treats them once they are economically empowered.
- Many were able to create self-employment for themselves and their family using the volunteer opportunity as their first step in career.
- Like that we have employed 60 physically challenged in the program as educational volunteers.
- The unknown fear of losing the jobs vis-à-vis the opportunity is more in case of physically challenged.
- There is respect and dignity for them in the community and society they live in.
- One of our disabled volunteer being made president of the village unanimously. It is a tribute to his leadership abilities.
- For all this what we have paid them…. $6 per month (approximately)
Dear friends, it is strange but true that with little initiative you can create wonders in creating sustainable livelihoods for the physically challenged. To appraise my self about the livelihoods and living conditions of the disabled I have traveled southern part of India extensively, visiting organizations, meeting fellow activists, meeting people with different disabilities and various NGO leaders.
Frankly, every place/person/organization taught me invaluable lessons. I wish to share with this gathering:
· Mukti Foundation in Chennai and Pondichery sells the paintings of famous artists and challenged upcoming artists and applied the proceeds to providing limbs and braces to disabled. So far they have given aids and appliances to 1,75,000 people. I salute the people involved with the movement. They call it mukti-liberation from dependence.
· Mobility India– one of the pioneering NGOs in Bangalore trains and employs disabled in every project.
· There is a group of disabled women in Bangalore who are trained in making and orthosis and prostheses and not only became successful entrepreneurs but also create employment for normal people as well.
· Sweekar– started as one rupee clinic from Hyderabad. Today, it trains disabled as carpenters, gardeners, beauticians and office assistants.
· Handicapped Welfare Association– working from Visakhapatnam has a niche market for diwali diyas, the organization is struggling to keep afloat and yet provide jobs for the disabled.
· LFWPT– an NGO with whom I am closely associated, employs 40% challenged of the work force. Providing insurance to all of them and building micro enterprise among them.
· Through our Lions Clubs, we are providing extensive rehabilitation services.
· Ability In Disability Foundation– a foundation established by an article written by me by same name! Operating from Bangalore to day they employ 320 visually impaired and orthopedically handicapped persons. They work in assembling of the wires for booming electronic industry. Everyone earns 2500-3000 rupees.
Dear friends, those are some of the silver linings of the grave issue called “creating livelihoods for the physically challenged”
But we are long way from creating sustainable habitats out of these incidents. In my view, to create an effective and efficient livelihood programs for physically challenged. We need some elements to make it sustainable. To achieve measurable results of any livelihood program:
- Support from government and other machinery are minimal.
- We need to put efforts to create networking among disability groups.
- There is less disability information, resources and referral services.
- India is a huge country, having 21,906,769 (source census’2001) of the total population as disabled. One single person/organization/group can solve all problems of creating livelihoods.
- Creative & innovative ways of job creation needs effort on a continuous basis
- There is no proactive platform for disabled to share their experiences and grow.
- Conventional method of stereo typing the jobs a disabled can perform needs to be changed with the changing conditions.
- Economic empowerment & rights based knowledge be made available.
- They are never part of any policy making. EVERYTHING ABOUT THEM HAS ALWAYS BEEN WITHOUT THEM… Instead it should be NOTHING ABOUT US-WITHOUT US!
- Access to work place hinders disabled from getting proper placements. Access needs be improved in all work places.
Dear friends, I have shared with you what I have know about the field.. today I shared what is in my heart. Nothing satisfies you when a child walks first time after a surgery or a person actually seeing after little medical help. We can make big difference
We always admire ability in disability,
We feel proud when they achieve some thing
We show case if they walk,talk,hear and sense
We see god in their determination and deeds
They want your help and encouragement and time
You can make them
TOGETHER WE CAN GIVE THEM OPPORTUNITY-NOT PITY
Please consider this. Thanks for taking time for us. Thanks in advance for thinking about us. You just have heard voice of Indian disabled.
TALK IS NEVER A SUBSTITUTE FOR ACTION- WITH ACTION, WE CAN MAKE AN IMPACT.
ACT to make IMPACT.