India’s new North East Cluster held its first training last month – three days on disability and inclusion. Cluster member and community health specialist ATAN KONYAK was there, and here she shares what the Cluster did, and why. If you have a disability in north-east India, you’re likely to be neglected. You’ll be a burden to many, and looked upon with sympathy. Your parents might hide you from public view. You could be branded "mad" if you happen to be mute. You’ll struggle to access public spaces, government offices, hospitals, and schools. And you’ll find it difficult to receive the meagre government support that’s meant to be available to you. The 2011 census found nearly 30,000 such people in Nagaland. But this is the extent of the data we have on disability, which itself reflects our society’s attitude: ignorance, discrimination and stigma are commonplace. And so it’s a pressing issue. But it’s one that nobody talks about. Our Cluster wants to change this, which is why our first major training together has been on the subject of disability.
As a new Cluster, we really value external support. And we could not have been more fortunate in that regard. Ms. Jubin Verghese travelled from the Uttarakhand Cluster – over two thousand kilometres away – to be with us. She has co-ordinated various local and national disability programs over the last eighteen years, including an Indian network of churches that focuses on disability and inclusion. Her presence gave us encouragement, wisdom and knowledge, as over three days we covered Community-Based Rehabilitation, Engaging with Disability in the Church, and Organising Family Retreats. I want to focus briefly on the last of these, as it was my personal highlight, and it underlines what can be achieved in the area of disability through a more collaborative approach. Eighteen attended this particular training. Not all were from the Cluster, but they were all from the city of Dimapur. Representing NGOs, churches, hospitals and a disability forum, they got to hear what a family retreat is, how to organise one, and what it can achieve. A Family Retreat – as you might expect – is when disabled people and their families come together to relax and have a good time. There is something in it for everyone. People with disabilities get to enjoy a friendly, fun, safe and relaxed atmosphere, and to create lasting memories. Parents get to strengthen and affirm their marriage. Families get to connect with others and discover practical resources and information around disability. And the local volunteers, churches and people who are involved in the retreat, get to learn about disability education, and to accelerate disability ministry in their church. With disability at its heart, a family retreat is a radical idea – one that has not to my knowledge taken place in our region before. It provides a new way for us all to think about disability, which we hope and pray can ripple out into wider society, and increase the possibility for change. And now that we all know how to organise them, that is what we will do. It is crucial to empower people with disabilities to raise their voice for their own rights. And it is crucial to sensitise others as well. This training was a step in the right direction – but there are lots more steps still to come.
Read an interview with the North East Cluster's Mobiliser Dr. Sedevi Angami, here.