According to the United Nations, around one billion people live with disabilities globally — they are the world’s largest minority.
By Monica Sarkar @MonicaSarkar for CNN
Of this number, as many as 40-80 million live in India, though the underdeveloped infrastructure across much of this vast country makes it difficult for them to get around.
But it’s not just the land 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.
Devender Pal Singh, 39, lost his leg during the Kargil War between India and Pakistan in 1999 when a bomb exploded just meters away from him, piercing his body with shrapnel.
After a later operation, his right leg became infected and had to be amputated. At one point doctors didn’t think he’d pull through. “This is my second life,” he says from his home in Noida outside Delhi, “because I was pronounced dead. I am one of the chosen ones.”
Devender Pal Singh, 39, dubbed as India’s “blade runner”
Long way to go
But while he has learned to live with his disability, or challenge, India still has a long way to go before the needs of the disabled are sufficiently met, or even recognized.
Take a short wander around almost anywhere in the country’s capital and you are faced with stairs or steep, uneven pavements with stalls intruding on their spaces, running alongside unruly traffic.
“The population of India (over 1.2. billion) is the biggest challenge,” says Singh. “Everyone expects all buildings and landmarks to be ‘disabled-friendly,’ but it’s not possible overnight. You must adjust yourself.”
Awanish Awasthi, joint secretary for the Indian government’s department of disability affairs, says most new buildings are disabled-friendly and the government provides financial support to those states wanting to take up the arduous task of upgrading their existing infrastructure.
However, it’s a different scenario for those who are physically or mentally disabled and burdened with poverty and excluded from mainstream society.
The Anchal Charitable Trust in Delhi, supported by the NGO Handicap International, works with eight slums in the east of the city, providing disabled children and their families with rehabilitation, education, counseling and information about their rights.
Disability at school
Aartee Gupta, Handicap International’s country program monitoring manager and a former government schoolteacher, says: “In the general school curriculum, there is nothing about education for children with special needs.”
Change of attitude
However, the factor that hinders the acceptance of disabled people in Indian society is attitude, says Catherine Novi, regional coordinator for the rehabilitation projects of Handicap International.
In her work with various communities, she has found many believe disability is caused by black magic or bad karma, as a result of wrongdoing in the disabled person’s former or current life.
Monika Sakar Freelance journalist narrating India
For the complete story, see the article in CNN.
NJN Network thanks the author Monica Sarkar for the article and her photographs.