Children of a Lesser God: The Need to Mainstream the Specially Abled

Disabled People Image

According to the Indian National Sample Survey (NSS-58th Round) carried out between July December 2002, the number of disabled persons in India was 18.49 million .They formed about 1.8 percent of the total estimated population. About 10.63 per cent of the disabled persons suffered from more than one type of following disabilities, (i) mental disability in the form of (a) mental retardation or (b) mental illness, (ii) visual disability in the form of (a) blindness or (b) low vision, (iii) hearing disability, (iv) speech disability, and (v) locomotor disability. While these statistics are dated and would have probably undergone revision, one can only imagine the magnitude of living, caring or being a specially-abled individual or their caregiver in India . Unlike the West the chasm separating the abled and the specially-abled runs wide and deep : lack of infrastructure even basic amenities like access ramps , user friendly doors, wash basins and wash rooms is practically non-existent.

In a country of nearly 1.3 billion people, opportunities be it securing a school, college admission or even a job-are keenly contested. Even among the ‘abled’ the filteration criteria ( a lot of it subjective and unspoken) ranges across a variety of dimensions : eg : the pedigree of the school, caste, age , gender, overall presentation and communication of the candidate , verbal communication skills , the contacts and the financial prowess of the individual concerned etc. Hence for specially abled individuals, no matter how gifted they maybe, even getting an opportunity becomes practically impossible. There are a lot of ‘foras’, organizations, which state an explicit agenda of assisting such individuals, but a lot of the talk is often lost in translation and the results are practically zero.

The first case that comes to mind is that of one of our ex-students MBA who is visually challenged. He was a good student and could articulate his thoughts clearly. The fact that he had managed to compete and complete the rigourous Indian curriculum by studying in a good school and college in Kolkatta was a testament to his grit and his families support. Determined and optimistic, he traveled the distance to Pune in order to pursue and MBA. He managed to complete the two year course which is extremely rigorous despite there being an acute dearth of study material and books that were easily accessible to the visually handicapped. His classmates were practically his eyes, ears and a huge source of moral support. However during the final campus placements our student struggled really hard – just to get an opportunity to interview. The discrimination ( if I may use the forbidden word) was never explicit. His resume would not get shortlisted by the companies visiting the campus. Attempts at connecting with industry representatives even organizations like the CII’s (http://www.cii.in/) cell for the specially-abled failed. Many follow-up emails and phone calls later we realized that in practice, such industry confederations had limited use and functionality.

Similar was the fate of another hearing impaired student’s fate. Finally both had to leave campus when their duration of stay ran out after the program concluded. The condition of children who have a severe disability is extremely difficult. Special schools, are few in number and hence commuting to and fro becomes an expensive affair. Special schools like the Spastics Society of India provide some vocational training programs. However the bind is in being able to find market linkages for marketing the products made by such special needs individuals. While researching this topic, I spoke at length to Mrs Meenakshi Balasubramanium the key force behind G.O.D.S’, of (Group of Disabled- see http://www.enabling-disabled.org/about-us/default.asp ) a Mumbai based organization for specially abled persons. The mission of the organization is to help facilitate a ‘life with self esteem for persons with disabilities’.

According to Ms Meenakshi, it’s very important to be able to market the products made by such special needs persons, because not only does it help to rejeuvenate the facilitating organizations but also provides such individuals with a sense of pride and self satisfaction . G.O.D.S has its own website and uses the ‘word of mouth’ mechanism to reach out to potential customers. However the scale of outreach needs to be bigger and the participation has to come from different stakeholders for it to be a visible difference be it students, corporate, citizen groups. Infact in SCMHRD(www.scmhrd.edu) we just concluded linking a Pune based NGO with one of India’s leading e-commerce sites (Snapdeal.com). While there is no doubt that a presence in the virtual marketplace allows NGOs to reach out to a far wider customer base ( local clients-directly and overseas clients-indirectly), the steep marketing costs that have to be paid to the online marketeer dent the thin spreads that such entities maintain on their products. Moreover while grass root organizations like G.O.D.S are skilled in their specific area of work- they need a lot of marketing inputs and expertise in separating these products and marketing them so that interested customers can identify with the cause and procure them. Otherwise competing in the same space as other mainstream goods and companies can place such organizations at a disadvantage on the price point.

Some solutions that can help such organizations are : 1) active participation by students through internships and live projects. The students can benefit from the ‘hand-on’ experience and the recipient organization can use the burst of talent and creativity coming from a young audience 2) Since ecommerce is booming in India , absorbing the marketing charges recovered from legitimate grassroots organizations as CSR expense ( Companies Act, 2013) can help facilitate the market linkage process and overcome the logistics problem that often plagues most NGOs. Corporates can also help in skilling the participants and help in making them market-ready.  3) Corporate purchases can also help in providing sustainable livelihoods and instilling a sense of pride. 4) Volunteering : through services, time is another way for interested individuals to make a positive difference. It is important to state here that mere cash donations are not enough- since they not only have a limited ‘mileage’ but also defeat the underlying raison d’etre.

My meeting with Komal (a special needs individual) and her mother was a very profound experience. The intricate patterns of emotions that can impact all the concerned family members – cannot be described in words. For words do no justice to the sheer thread of hope and optimism that many like Komal and her mother hang-on to as they traverse their life’s journey. My tribute to Komal and many more unknown Komals and the families concerned:” let there be hope for you are not odd , you are special, you are children of a lesser god…”

Children of a Lesser God..

She struggled to reach out to the railing: her mother watching on her and keeping guard..
She seemed to be trying to find some imaginary succor , as her crutches scraped over the concrete that was cold and hard

Mother and daughter made their way slowly into the crowded room
Where people had gathered to celebrate and enjoy the festivities of the holiday season- enjoying fine wine and food under a canopy covered with the silver glaze of the full moon..

I saw the duo as they sat there in one corner- as the world seemed to swing by
Young women swishing past them in fine garments, while a few older women stopped by their table to stop and say ‘hi’!

The mother, an old frail woman in her late eighties whipped out a white handkerchief bordered with lace
As she patiently wiped the saliva drooling from her daughters face

They sat there in a world that was distant and their own
Seemingly undisturbed by the noise, conversation strings floating in the air broken by the sound of jarring cellphones

First one container she removed from a big shoulder bag and then one more
As a fresh burst of crowd walked in to the room – through the front door

She fed her daughter a smooth mush of what seemed like vegetables and rice
And then as if she seemed to be aware of my gaze, looked straight into my eyes

I tried to look away, feeling embarrassed and guilty of intruding their space
As I had breached on their world through my prying gaze

She smiled at me and looked at me briefly
As she served her daughter some juice after stopping a harassed waiter who was catering to the revelry

I went and sat next to them , and introduced myself
Told them about the connections: common relatives: links via social threads

The mother recalled our brief meeting when we had boarded the bus
And the fact that they had been seated in front of us..

She formally introduced me to her daughter whose name was “Komal”
And we started chatting about their life and world

She told me about Komal’s forty-four year old journey
The affection, love that they shared and her efforts at shaping Komal’s destiny

Komal needed help in walking, eating and swallowing
Thirty two surgeries had made only a marginal difference in her daily living

Her mind was alert, but she could not speak
She loved listening to stories but could not see properly or read

She loved chocolate cake and drinking Sprite
She loved Shrewsberry biscuits – and savoured every bite..

Her mother told me about the kids like Komal, who were part of a group
That was taught to make paper bags, candles, diwali lamps and pack agarbattis and dhoop[1]

She described kids from different backgrounds- the talented few
That had picked up a lot of tips and tricks-although they were so young and new

The goods that they could sell helped to foster livelihoods
It was a not for profit set-up and that way they tried to help as many kids as they could..

For some she said were not so fortunate to get the love and the care
In some cases the families ‘left’ them- for the social pressures associated in dealing with ‘such’ a kid , were too much to bear..

“My son who is ‘normal’ –will not find a bride”
Is what one mother who had left her son in one of the live-in centres – had said and cried

Komal , oblivious to the conversation was in a distant world of her own
Where she appeared to be happy- to be lost in a tranquil space- in her own zone

The corners of eyes crinkled when she smiled to connect with something or someone out there
In a world ,that appeared to be far away from the mortal worries, strife and care

The mother reached out to hold her daughters hand and I could feel the energy that seemed to reverberate through the touch
It was a signal of a sort of mutual assurance, of two weary travelers trudging along , enroute to a never ending journey-the wrinkles on their faces bearing evidence of what they had seen and the eyes weary , after a long search..

A search for hope and a way out of their state that did not seem to be forthcoming..
Her eyes hungry for that ray of sunshine – an end to autumn and the herald of spring

As I was about to leave them – as they were, comfortable in each other’s company
I recalled some of the words spoken- and then I had an epiphany

When she had spoken, the mother had mentioned the bind
Of leaving behind a vulnerable girl child – in a world that was harsh and unkind,

Her words and her eyes had reflected the myriad emotions as she had spoken
Of wishing that Komal would precede her – in the journey towards heaven

For she could not bear to think of what might be the fate of her innocent child after she was gone
Since it was only her that tended to her needs from dusk to dawn

While her words resonated with everything that was logical and true
They had raised a plethora of questions and thoughts- all lined up, as if in a queue

Was the mother’s prayer a correct appeal to the powers that be
Or was it due to the emotions-all entwined so deeply that it did not let her see..

Maybe an alternate path if it did exist at all
That could help to find a solution- a way to move away from the wall

Could there be a better way for hoping for the best
And letting life bloom peacefully-without the mental unrest

Was there a way to invoke the Almighty for a miracle- Praise the lord !
Would a superhero appear, or would there be no savior for such children of a lesser god..

________________________________________
[1] Dhoop : Is a type of Indian incense used in most Hindu households during prayers.

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Does India Really Need a Women-centric Bank?

With plenty of banks and microfinance services already available, does India’s new bank have the right strategy to empower poor and rural women? Appended is the link to my article which was recently featured in the Policy Innovations Magazine published by the Carnegie Council, New York.

Please click the link given below to review the article. Your views and opinions are welcome.

http://www.policyinnovations.org/ideas/commentary/data/000283

 

 

The Execution of Financial Inclusion- Oh What a Confusion !

Image

( Picture  : Taken by the author during a research visit in the slums of Pune city)
 

Financial Inclusion generally gets a fresh lease around elections,

When the mango person becomes the cynosure of a lot of attention

 

There is an accelerated push to open theme based banks

Women centric, poor centric to help ‘eradicate poverty’- is generally the favorite rant

 

But things are quite interesting when viewed at the grassroots level

‘Mor’ reports don’t seem to translate into simpler banking for the folks operating from the base level,

 

Let us understand this through the stories of Bharat Ram and Parvati

This can hopefully illustrate the lacunae prevailing at the foothills of the mountain of the ‘pro poor’ policies

 

Bharat Ram a laborer wanted to send some money home for his ailing mother

But didn’t have a bank account since he was new in the city and worked a daily laborer

 

The bank officials asked him for a proof of residence and identity

A registered rental agreement or a recent bill- of water, or electricity

 

‘Sir I pay cash and don’t have a rent agreement’ said Bharat Ram

‘Only an Aadhar card which I can try and find, but which has the address of my farm’

 

‘I came to the city because two famines wiped out my crops and I went into debt’

‘Now please help me send this money quickly to me mother who is writhing in pain in her bed’

 

The bank official looked at Bharat Ram and said ‘I know it’s hard but you know we have to comply with KYC’

‘We sympathize with you but what can we do –its governments policy’

 

Only account holders can remit funds from this branch’

‘For the ‘others’ there are other centers, but you will have to take a chance….’

 

‘Go between 8 am to 10 am and stand in queue that piles up outside that service branch’

‘If it’s not too busy or if the cashier shows up you might get a chance’

 

‘But Sir, if I go and stand there during that time’

‘How do I earn my daily wage-please understand my bind’

 

The bank official peered over the thick frame of reading glasses

And went on to his ‘job’ of ticking and signing the vouchers, forms and bills

 

And then there is the curious case of Parvati Bai’s buffalo loan

Which was sanctioned by submitting the photograph of Sunita’s new born

 

Sunita was the pride and joy of  Bhoolbhoolaiya village classified by banks as a ‘rural zone’

Her kids were much sought after models –especially when the villagers wanted an allied agricultural loan

 

Sunita’s owner was a benevolent lady who would let the villagers borrow the buffaloes

For a small fee which was usually paid contingent to them getting the ‘green notes’

 

Parvati Bai followed the standard village practice

Of submitting the documents and hiring a tout who helped her to figure out the profit sharing piece

 

Even after dividing the booty, it was money nonetheless

Which would come in handy to splatter a coat of paint outside the house and buy her son a new dress

 

She was supposed to start a small dairy business with the money

The nearest dairy owned by the local don was a bumpy, and uncomfortable two hour arduous journey

 

‘I can start a business but who will collect the milk from my village’

‘And will I even get a penny incase of any spoilage?”

 

‘So why bother about the future when I have the present to worry about?”

‘Whoever thought about this was a big babu-no doubt’

 

Bharat Ram on the other hand walked to a slum after the sun set that evening

And made arrangements with a hawala don to deliver money to his kith and kin

 

Strange are the policies designed such that they don’t seem to work

In day to day situations and can’t stand the test of the turf

 

And while much discourse is followed by a deluge of more…

By bada babus, learned sahebs netas and leaders galore

 

The poor find ways to eek their lives from the maze of defunct rules and policies

Designed in board rooms, compressed by glass ceilings –headless, meaningless and full of fallacies..

 

 

 

 

Sustainable rural livelihood security in the backward Districts of Maharashtra

Sustainable rural livelihood security in the backward Districts of Maharashtra

 The research paper authored by Raji Ajwani Ramchandani & Ms. Preeti Karmarkar has just been published by ScienceDirect.Com The paper covers the BAIF led NAIP (Component 3 ) sub project which commenced in 2007 in 76 villages of five backward districts of Maharashtra with the objective of developing a holistic solution for promoting sustainable livelihoods. Agriculture was the mainstay of livelihood in these areas, however usage of traditional methods, lack of proper irrigation facilities etc led to lower yields causing a ‘forced’ migration to the nearby urban centres.

A project team comprising of scientists, experts from the consortium and the local people identified the needs through PRAs and a technical study. Interventions were planned by integrating tested technologies with a family focused, area based approach. Integrated cluster development was adopted comprising of interventions that focused on: improved agriculture methods, livestock development, water resource development and forest based initiatives.

The package for improved agriculture was linked to the water resource development program. About 828 ha of land was brought under protective irrigation through TCDs , PDCs , Gabion bunds etc. As a result, an average 40% increase was achieved in agriculture productivity and an increase in income of Rs. 21,134/Acre/annum.

A value chain approach was adopted in the livestock related interventions. Critical services, technologies, improved management practices and market linkages were the major components of the cattle development initiative which so far has produced1097 hybrid heifers and created an estimated total asset value of Rs. 3.29 crore. The hybrid heifers have a significantly higher milk yield of 1600 liters versus 400 liters for the locally bred variety, yielding a gross income of Rs. 28,800/anum per family. A similar package was also offered for small ruminants such as goats. A ‘goat bank’ approach was adopted to ensure sustainability thereby benefiting 1500 families. 

The full paper can be downloaded from the appended link.

Tomorrow’s Child : A Poem

In a world of many, much and more

We seemed to have lost the things that matter most

The beauty of the rising sun and wind

And the purity of the water we drink

We want fast cars, quick sales and bigger mills

To keep up with Jack’s, Jone’s and the Jill’s

Hence we demolish the hills and make them landfills

That  pollute the soil, our food and push up our medical bills

To get better we spend megabucks on R&D

When the common sense solution is for all to see

The cures are painless, bloodless and endless

By the time the doctors are through we are penniless

We rise again to chase another goody before its ‘too late’

And move a step closer to God’s heavenly gates

We say we want, we need and we must save for tomorrow’s child

Who has to be ‘better’, ‘quicker’ and ‘smarter’ to run that extra mile

We think he needs a big house, a great education and a good job

But do we take a second to reflect upon the quality of the air that is more like smog

We want him to wine and dine with nothing but the best

Little do we know that what he may be eating may be laced with lead

We don’t think about milk laced with melamine[1]

Since it happened in someone else’s backyard and that’s fine

We plunder, destroy and invade because we want a ‘better future’

For that child of tomorrow who is our captive prisoner

For he can’t protest since he trusts us implicitly

And we break his faith all the time- effortlessly

For tomorrow’s child doesn’t know…

That today he is being led on a rosy path to the gallows..

Authors Note: This poem has been written to convey the imperative of sustainability. As geographical lines blur due to trades and markets,  so does the need to view responsible business practices as a means to ensure survival.  It’s possible to do well by doing good, what is needed is innovative thinking and a commitment to make a positive difference.

( The author would like to dedicate this to  Amit and Tarini Ramchandani)

Standing Tall : Overcoming Challenges with the support of community based microfinance( Self Help Groups)

Photo: Manisha: Differently abled due to a hunchback.Used the community based microfinance for enhancing her education and completing her education.The next round of borrowing was to buy a computer to setup a passport pictures bbusiness

Manisha has a sunny smile and a spunky attitude. Although she is differently abled its something that she has accepted and taken in her stride. ” Nobody wants to marry me because of my back issue” she says but she credits the support of her entire village (Vetale-Maharashtra) and particularly the confidence given to her by her self help group (SHG) members-in overcoming the lack of confidence that she had earlier. “I never used to step outside my house or mix with others”. It was her mother’s foresight that helped Manisha . Because of her association with the SHG group, Manisha was able to borrow funds to set up a small passport pictures business in her village. Her main clients are all the SHG women members (approx 160 in number) who need pictures for various purposes like opening a bank bank, applying for a UID card etc. Earlier they would have to travel about 25 kms to Rajgurunagar (which is the Khed taluka headquarter) to take pictures.The convenience of having the facility in the village itself has been a win-win situation for all. Now Manisha wants to build her own home near her relatives in the village itself. She also has invested in a small Fuji camera and doubles up as a photographer in the village events. In addition to these endeavors, Manisha has a job as the Assistant Librarian in the village library. She loves books and is happy working in the village itself. “It’s my mother’s vision that has helped me” she says. Her mother encouraged Manisha to attend the SHG meetings, and participate in their proceedings from a young age since she (mother) realized the need to make her independent and yet build a support cadre where she would feel welcome. In a village that has no bank, college, police station, fire brigade and where power and water are scarce, the SHG route is a way to encourage and instill the saving habit as well as link the members to institutionalized credit. Manisha feels that others in a similar situation can benefit immensely if they are part of a vibrant and nurturing SHG set-up. Chaitanya, the Rajgurunagar based NGO (http://www.chaitanyaindia.org/contact-us) first started working in Vetale village nearly 22 years ago when road connectivity was practically nonexistent and the concept of savings and pooling in the same -alien. For Manisha the journey has been a long one -she is a member for over fifteen years but a fruitful one.