Inclusion Retreat in Bangalore
We had a half-day ‘Inclusion retreat’ on 2nd October, 2016 in Bangalore. Jaideep, Priyanka and I invited few guests and it was a close gathering of 9 of us with Deepa, Ajit, Ashwin & Bharat, and Madhumitha as participants and Sreepriya, Vinoth, Jaideep and myself as volunteers. We also had few people from the apartment complex walking by and spending some time as audience. All the guests were completely new to such programs and also our team. Yet, in-spite of their physical challenges, these inspiring people made all the efforts to come down travelling from different areas. I was amazed at the commitment and excitement of our guests who had the courage to come to a new place, for an unknown program with strangers. Their ability to trust others and themselves, makes me admire them as brave hearts.
After a quick and warm welcome, we got together in a circle of sharing. Hereafter, for all sharing in the circle, I choose not to put names — as it appeals to me more at this point in time. Below are gists of sharing and stories from our group discussion.
Tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on ‘Gandhi Jayanti’: Gandhi had strong practices of truth, non-violence, self-dependence, ‘Being the change’, ‘Non-Co-operation’ and insisted on including ‘Harijans’ in society etc. He fought all his battles and never gave up on the movement, making sure not to allow any violence at any time as well. Value-oriented fighting spirit and unwavering commitment to non-cooperation are deeply admired.
An 85 year old dada, who has been a Vinoba and Gandhi’s follower would wait extra time and change an auto but only use public, shared auto, not a private one. Though, he may be getting late, his wife around 80 years may be sick and he may be exhausted. This and similar daily practices of simplicity, determined spirit of minimal needs and putting community good before self, make our dada an inspiration.
This woman chose not to speak a lie or cheat even at the cost of losing the only job at hand when everyone else was using these means. While reflecting back, it surprises how she could take such a strong step then. Over a period of time, it has been realised that for little social, monetary and other benefits, we end up losing our own selves, our core values of strength, which is priceless and very difficult to regain.
From the opening circle, we moved on to discussion on the seed question for the gathering: ‘Any inclusion incident which has been courageous and has moved you or someone else deeply’. What followed was a deeper understanding of different forms of Inclusion and the presence ( or lack) of it in our society.
A physically challenged person experiences inclusion every minute, like breath — it is a basic need. Someone in the family takes care of feeding food, taking places or other daily necessities. Friends and family share about life and include them in different experiences. If Inclusion does not happen, development of differently-abled as confident, outgoing, working individuals is extremely difficult. Inclusion is must to create this outcome for them. One group member had never stepped out of home for 15 years, her world was defined by the stories shared by her siblings and parents. She experiences Inclusion every minute.
Difficulties are faced by transgender people as they need inclusion in society. A transgender man has learnt sign language (when none in his family / friends were deaf). This is an example of going an extra mile to include others.
Gender based inclusion — sometimes expectations are set on the basis of gender and unfair rules are defined. An old, differently-abled lady was supported by her brothers because in their family women are escorted by men. Lately, she can’t go out, due to age and disability, she is expected to stay at home. ‘‘What’s the need to go out?”, is the question she has been asked multiple times.
Marriage with a differently-abled needs courage and acceptance. One couple in the group shared about parents’ interference and questioning, which has been a harsh experience. Women with disability, face an even more difficult situation with marriage, as people prefer a bride who can cook, clean the house , etc.
Inclusion on the basis of caste system: Gandhi ji did lot of work for backward classes and other leaders put up reservation for them in India (though now it is all politically motivated and very difficult to accept for others writing exams and facing the ill effects of reservation). In a movie called ‘Fandri,' a teenage boy who belongs to scheduled caste is made to clean shit, work with pigs, disrespected and treated as outcaste. It’s a wonderful movie which clearly depicts what’s going on internally for a young boy and how in the end he becomes furious and picks up a stone. It was an eye-opener, as it clarified the level of difficulties undergone by people on the basis of caste system.
Another form of differentiation in the society is on the basis of economy—while the rich have many rights, the poor need to accept everyone and everything the way it is. This woman travelled in second class compartment of train, where she observed faces which told stories of having undergone suppression and disrespect just because they were poor. Her deep concern led to silent connections beyond economic status.
True friendship and sacrifice for inclusion is evident in the story of two friends — one person with disability has been able to clear exams and join job because of his friend, who transcribed for him, while sacrificing his own years of degree. This friend has also taken stand and got accessibility enabled in a mall, a cinema hall and other places. He also mentioned how before marriage, his wife-to-be was told of this deep bond and daily togetherness and she became supportive of their friendship as well.
Why is the categorisation of disabled required? Using nicer names such as specially- abled does not make it any different. Why can’t we include everyone equally, at par, was an open question? IIS has been doing a great work in this direction, by providing a platform for the inclusion movement to emerge and connecting these courageous people.
The discussion progressed into projects for differently-abled. Madhumitha shared her dream project of working with the parents of differently-abled. These parents go through a hard time and it is their mindset and strength which impacts the growth and development of the child with physical challenges as well. Ashwin is already writing a blog piece every week on ‘Truclusions’ for ‘Knowyourstar’, which is a start-up by Jaideep working in Inclusion space. Ajit is creating a startup around humour side of physically challenged people. Deepa heads 20k people in her organization. Sreepriya and Bharath are living inclusion every day. Most of the guests have also spoken at forums like TedX, IIS and other platforms as invited.
I felt a surge of strength overflowing within me not just then but a continued feeling for days after. As I write to share the magic of the day, it is all coming back to me. What a powerful day it was; I salute each of the warriors who are fighting their daily battles of dignity, inclusion and contribution.