Different, but Able

  • Barnali Dutta / FG
  • India
  • Apr 24, 2015

Photo: Prakhar Pandey

God or misfortune has made them ‘different’, and so they are differently abled. But they have every right to be a part of the ‘mainstream’. Physical handicaps or other disabilities may be deterrents to the 'normal' development of such human beings, making them ‘naturally inadequate’…but they have unnatural strengths and adequacies too. In today’s world the differently abled are not only being encouraged and assisted in overcoming their ‘inadequacies’, but are also being facilitated into ‘normal’ society. Their special skills are being appreciated. For many, their lives have been given a new meaning – something that they could earlier never even think of, let alone realise

Sunday’s ‘Special Raahgiri’ was for the differently-abled in Gurgaon. Neha, a 21-years-old differently-abled girl in her second year at college, was very excited to meet the Haryana Chief Minister, who had come especially for this function. She seemed so full of life. Seated on her wheel chair she said, “For me disability is just a part of life and I have accepted it with a smiling face. I love studying and want to be a teacher. My family has always supported me and I am sure that I will fulfill this this dream of mine.”  Another differently-abled lady, who had lost her leg in an accident, has rediscovered herself. She today financially helps her husband by running a tailoring business. She said, ”Disability is not a disease. Yes, the pain of losing a limb will always be there, but I have learnt to accept my fate. It is the mentality that matters. I love my family and I want to do something for them.” There were many similar people at Raahgiri that day, who had been cruelly ‘struck down’, but had decided to take on their challenges positively. There were a number of deaf and dumb youth who were excellent cyclists. While they were not be able to express themselves through words, their faces told their story. Happy and cheerful, they just loved the bikes. A representative of Sai Sawam Society, which works with the deaf and dumb, said, “They are fantastic human beings and deserve better in life. We do understand the pain of their parents and guardians, but we also let them know how precious their children are.” At this Raahgiri they were all specially recognised. Besides helping build a communal awareness and sensitivity on the inclusion (and acceptance) of people with disabilities, the 'Inclusive‎ Raahgiri Day' was an effort to  emphasise that they too have talent and passion, which should be embraced by all. The Day was a celebration of diversity, offering a plethora of activities like wheel chair basketball, football for the blind, wheel chair dancing, and aerobics and cultural performances by the differently-abled citizens of society. An army of toddlers, flashing beatific smiles, won everyone’s hearts. Seemingly unknown to them is their misery - they prefer to enjoy life, no matter what. 

Many youngsters also acted as volunteers, offering assistance to the differently-abled. And of course there was the ‘normal’ Raahgiri fare. A battery of drummers and percussionists took to the streets, mesmerising participants and viewers with their wide repertoire. There was a great ambience of joy and happiness all around. Raahgiri also owes its success to the police officials, who keep vigil to ensure that no untoward incident takes place. Raahgiri encourages NGOs to come forward and ‘show’ their work. This time the National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation was present at the function. A government institution for the promotion of self-employment ventures for persons with disability, the Corporation also provides financial assistance to a wide range of income generation schemes that are tailor-made for differently-abled persons. There were other NGOs like Dr. Reddy’s Foundation, where the differently-abled are trained to be professionals, and the organisation also helps them to find jobs and other livelihoods. While the sun blazed from the heavens, artists scorched the stage with their stupendous performances. A huge source of joy were the performances of the differently-abled - be it playing games or cycling or simply exhibiting their prowess in physical exercises. “The willingness of societies across the world to respect the special talent and dreams of the differently-abled has given a whole new dimension to their lives. This Special Raahgiri has provided them a unique platform to showcase their talents,” said Mukesh Jain, Joint Secretary, Government of India. He added, ”It is not only about their acceptance in (our) society, but also about them building confidence within themselves. They are just like us and their dreams too should be respected.” A major attraction at the Sunday event was a fantastic display of skills by basketball players on wheelchairs. The Chief Minister of Haryana, who witnessed this unique event, said that he was touched by their sincerity and passion. They performed most ably. The CM said, “They are an integral part of our society and should be rightfully treated as equals. They are much more courageous than us, as they have to counter the pain of ‘inadequacy’ every day…and yet they seem to live life to its fullest. We should continue to encourage them to enhance their talents and fulfill their dreams.” He however admitted that Gurgaon (and of course India itself) lacked much of the civic and social infrastructure that could help the differently-abled live more convenient and wholesome lives. He rued the fact that there were no cycle tracks created for the physically impaired. He also pointed out that Gurgaon roads needed to be maintained better and the transport system better organised to serve the people of the City. He spoke of developing a Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) system, which would also be environmentally friendly. The Chief Minister was critical of those who still felt that persons with disabilities and special needs should be kept ‘excluded’ from society. 

Enrique Penalosa, the former Mayor of Bogota, Colombia and a special Raahgiri guest, while listing the most important amenities that help improve the quality of life in a city, said that the prime focus should be on developing parks, cycle tracks, pavements and facilities for the elderly, differently-abled and the poor. A new campaign was also kicked off at the venue, to sensitise residents of Gurgaon on the need to give right of way to ambulances. According to the Road Safety Officers (RSOs) who started this campaign, they wanted to encourage every citizen to take a pledge that they would help clear the way for ambulances so that lives could be saved. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has also initiated a mass awareness programme on disability, which was kicked off at the Special Raahgiri. The agenda of the Programme encompasses the following, which would now be communicated all across the country:

  • Disability is only a difference - like gender or race.
  • Being disabled is neither good nor bad - it's just part of who you are.
  • The problems occur when disabled persons try to ‘function’ in an ‘inaccessible’ society.
  • What is needed is a change in society – physically (like making things accessible for everyone) and mentally
  • Change can start through anyone - a person with a disability, an advocate or anyone who wants to see an inclusive ‘all-abled’ society.


The ‘poster man’ of the differently-abled of our times is perhaps Steven Hawking, the UK-born physicist and cosmologist, who contracted a rare irreversible debilitating disease at the age of 21. He was affected by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neuron disease, wherein the nerves that control muscle movement just shut down. Patients of ALS generally do not live long. However, Hawking has not only lived, but also managed to determinedly follow his dreams. He lives on artificial systems, which drive his anatomy as well as his speech. He literally functions through a computer. What a positive attitude!




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