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A Congress with a Zest

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

Manjunath Ram Reddy

Organizing Secretary - Indian Congress for Persons with Disabilities.

Been a victim of prejudice I sometimes miss the crux of the whole purpose!! But you see.. not my fault, come every December all of a sudden, we see an entire “Abled” society waking up to the cause and concerns of the “Disabled” Community. The fun starts with a phrase Inclusion attached for every other phrase you can imagine. starting with Inclusive dances, Inclusive Marathons, Inclusive sports, Inclusive Education and the list continues to even Inclusive Love 😕. And the disabled people who were ignored and forgotten the whole year, suddenly become great heroes of twilight moments. I get churned with a moral dilemma whether to participate passionately or for the sake of an exclusively “Inclusive” Event. And these events happen all in the name of creating awareness and ends up to be just another PR stunt. In spite of all these events conducted over and over attitude among the majority remains the same. Disability is something that could affect an individual at any time in one’s life. Its the people’s inability to not able to relate to this fact which I feel creating divide among us. I wonder why we have to talk about “Inclusion” When we all belong to the same community and the same human race. Are our superior thinking abilities as humans only limited to classify and divide among us based on how we look and what we can and can’t do? I feel the idea of Disability Inclusion is put forward by people who think able bodied are simply superior. To joke about I always tell people that my disability is permanent and their abilities to walk, see, hear and think are temporary!!! Being disabled myself I have never felt different from abled persons. I lead a normal life like anyone else. I do my job to the best of my knowledge. I travel and eat and laugh as like anybody else. I fall in love as often and as frequent as anyone else. How am I different and for what should I be included?

As my memory sways back, we have been talking about accessibility and inclusion for over 3 decades. The real inclusion in society is to embrace the person with equal dignity and respect irrespective of whatever his condition of disability and abilities are. Sounding Idealistic ha? Come to the Congress for Persons with Disabilities and you will know what I’m talking!!

It all started when a delegation of spirited individuals consisting of Rabindran Isaac, Sumanth Iyengar, Micky Joseph, and Vinay were invited to the World Congress for Persons with Disabilities held in Ekaterinburg, in the summer of Russia, September 2017. A ten-minute discussion with Thomas and the collective experience they had in Russia, inspired the delegation for a need to have such a movement in India.

What followed thereafter was the realization of the First Indian Congress for Persons with Disabilities that was held at Karl Kubel Institute, Anaikatti, Coimbatore, India. The foothills of Western Ghats witnessed the gathering of 75 delegates consisting of persons with disabilities, caretakers, and representatives of NGOs from all over the country.

A three-day Congress at Karl Kubel Institute consisted of musical concerts, sessions, workshops, panel discussion, dances, singing and lot more. All of them were conducted by Persons with Disabilities themselves. What was to be considered as a trial ended with a Resounding Success. Never before such an event captured the minds and imagination of persons with disabilities.

The Congress had few unique moments that worth mentioning, like the session we had with Swarnalatha from Swarga Foundation. A true hero by all means. A panel discussion on relationships. And my favorite, A Trek to Nilgiris Biosphere park. And there was a special bonding created over the dining table among the delegates. Not to forget the personal gifts I received from the delegates 😇. The Congress helped us indulge in ourselves and not worry about our indifference and to appreciate each other for what we truly are. All the time I was talking to a new person and realize that we share similar ideas and viewpoints. Personally, for me, it was an awakening to a new idea and set new goals of what I can do from here on.

The impact of any event should be felt even after it has ended and the Congress had achieved its purpose. We are now pulling up our sleeves for the 2nd Indian Congress for Persons with Disabilities, here in Bangalore during the summer of 2019. We are hoping to continue the momentum that started in Coimbatore.

I have spent all my life with disabled individuals, right from my schooling to the Diploma college for the differently abled and then the Engineering College. My friends today are eminent scientists and are heading research wings in their organizations. They are committed and dedicated to there work and explore new frontiers of science and technology every day. They are married and have children like any other individuals. A few months back when I met them over dinner and spoke about what they think about “Inclusion” they smiled at me saying “Inclusion” is only for abled ones to do and that they feel that they are already included and its up to the society to acknowledge them. For the “Able-bodied” I would want to say that all that they know is just the tip of the iceberg and the real learning is them to do.

I have traveled many times alone and arranged different gathering inside and outside my office. They are many people who ask me why am I not part of such “Inclusions” event. All that I tell in return is that I already feel included. For me, a hot cup of tea at Ravi and Srividya’s place is much sweeter than any award ceremony for being disabled. An invitation from Seema to her charity gathering makes me more worthy to help others in spite of my disability. Tell me, Am I not Included???

I here quote the lines from Rabindranath Tagore: Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free; Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; Where words come out from the depth of truth; Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection; Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action - Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

I have started my journey to awakening, being part of the Indian Congress for Persons with Disabilities. Will you?

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