Garima: The Right to a Life of Dignity
Persons with disabilities face stigma, discrimination and barriers that restrict them from participating in society on an equal basis. In recent years, there has been a revolutionary change in approach, globally, to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy the same standards of equality, rights and dignity as everyone else.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2008, signalled a ‘paradigm shift’ from traditional charity-oriented, medical-based approaches to disability, to one based on human rights.
However, paradigm shifts don’t touch the lives of the disempowered in the remote pockets of our country unless sustained efforts in this direction are initiated. Aatapi discovered that a disproportionate number of persons with disabilities are viewed as sufferers and dependent objects of care without autonomy.
Observing an area of need, Aatapi initiated its work with Persons with Disabilities (PwD) in 4 and later 13 villages in Jambusar block of Bharuch district in 2008. Aatapi supported them in accessing their entitlements by building linkages with Government departments and non-government institutions. This included procurement of disability certificate, bus passes, aids and appliances, scholarship for children with special needs and social security schemes. This simple step was the beginning of a journey to attain self-reliance.
Presently, 1200 Persons with Disabilities in 48 villages are covered through various interventions. Linkages of disabled persons with community-based groups such as farmers’ groups and self-help groups facilitated their integration into mainstream society.
Skill training, access to loans, initial hand holding and support enabled them to start their own enterprise and stand on their own feet.
The programme took a leap when Aatapi encouraged the formation of small groups of persons with disability at the village level, beginning 2011. Entitlements such as disability certificates, identity cards, aids and appliances, pensions, social security schemes, school scholarships now became tools to reach their unreached fellow citizens. The ripple effect of this was the emergence of 44 plus leaders in 20 villages who strove to bring persons with disabilities under one umbrella. Aatapi nurtured the emerging leadership and facilitated the shift from beneficiary to Right holders and from individual to collective rights. This led to the formation of the Viklang Parivartan Sangathan, a block level advocacy group of disabled persons for the rights of disabled persons.
Viklang Parivartan Sangathan is ray of hope for not only Jambusar but the community of disabled persons in Gujarat. The sangathan was successful in transforming an incident of discrimination and denial of rights on State Transport buses to a strong ratification of their rights.
To achieve the ultimate goal of inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in development Aatapi follows a twin track approach.
Sensitization and Awareness of Communities towards Persons with Disabilities and their inclusion
Empowering of Persons with Disabilities to create a space for themselves in development arena
Gajraben is a mother of an adolescent boy with special needs. Aatapi changed my thinking and gave her the himmat-courage to come with my child to the Aatapi meetings. This enables me to participate in development activities and the acceptance of other women has helped ‘normalise’ my life and my son’s life.
Jiviben is an active leader of the Viklang Parivartan Sangathan and her self-help group. “Before I came in contact with Aatapi, I did not have any guidance. With Aatapi’s guidance, I jumped for any opportunities of learning that came my way. After our exposure trip to Ahmedabad I was inspired to learn tailoring for a livelihood and I took several trainings. Today I am earning well. First I crawled around the house, now I ‘fly’ from village to village in my electric powered bicycle.
37 year old Shaminben’s family sees her as a liability. She has a disability-difficulty walking, and has no special skills or talent. A mother of 4 children, she has not given up on herself. She was determined to learn and earn her dignity and independence and win the love and respect of her family and community.
A seeker, she participated in Aatapi’s knowledge and training sessions and learnt the ropes of managing a small enterprise. “My family does not give me a hand, but I have Aatapi’s hand to hold till I can walk on my own.”
After have several brainstorming sessions with Aatapi, she zeroed down on a lahri of spices. Sharp she acquired the skills of handling a credit system, managing and handling accounts, controlling costs and working towards a decent profit.
Today she is a proud owner of her small lake side lahri, (shop on wheels) where she sells spices like mirchi , turmeric , garam masala, coriander powder, garlic and so on.
Fearless, diligent and ambitious, her struggle is not over. Her fight for a few square feet of land to do her business continues. She is doggedly fighting for her rights to the place where she currently parks her lahri . She is informed about her rights and duties and confident that she can shape brighter future for herself.
Dabhai was a skilled cobbler but could not find work as his disability restricted his mobility. Aatapi helped him procure a tricycle. Now Dabhai provides mobile cobbler services. The tricycle and the mobile phone have put his business on a run; he cycles around 11 to 15 kms daily.
A polio victim, he lost one leg in childhood, but the limp has not dimmed his grit. A small time entrepreneur, he dreams big. Training, exposure and continuous guidance from Aatapi through the entrepreneurship and leadership programmes enabled him to take expand his small shop to a bigger setup. He took further risks and ventured into printing and photo copy services. Selling soft drinks is a recent addition to his shop. He earns approx. Rs. 500 to 700 daily. “You cannot grow profits without risk, or earn rewards without hard work, but I am not scared of failing. Aatapi was my safety net.”