If you have a disability and behave ordinarily,
people take you as extraordinary.
– Major Devender Pal Singh, Kargil War Hero, (India’s First Blade Runner)
More than one billion people in the world live with some form of disability, of whom nearly 200 million experience considerable difficulties in functioning. People with disabilities have poorer health, lower education and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. This is partly because disadvantaged people experience barriers in accessing services, including health, education, employment, transport and information. These difficulties are exacerbated in the remote far-flung areas of our country. To achieve the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, the Government in concert with the NGOs must strive to provide relief and empower people living with disabilities. In fact, it has to be a public-private-participation.
It gives me immense satisfaction to write about Pritam Spiritual Foundation (PSF), a unique NGO, registered as a charitable trust, in the state of J&K, operating out of Poonch. PSF was founded in 1990 by Prof Jagbir Singh, an indefatigable social worker and highly respected citizen. He took upon himself to serve the under-privileged people, a great challenge, in an isolated and inaccessible zone. He is a recipient of the CNN -IBN ‘Real Hero Award’ at Mumbai in March 2009 and numerous honours from the Army. The NGO has maintained close liaison with the Army in the Sadbhavana projects.Poonch lies in a remote and rugged area South of PirPinjal, in a highly militarized zone subjected to active firing along the Indo-Pak Line of Control and high intensity militancy. People have been victims of accidental firings, minefield blasts laid during the three Indo-Pak wars and now due to IED incidents. Those requiring succour are poor and backward. Through sheer dedication, PSF has extended services to the entire village belt along the Line of Control in Rajouri and Poonch, Udhampur and Reasi and to the North of the PirPanjal in the valley to Baramulla and Kupwara districts.
Initially formed as a trust, the NGO resolved to specifically ameliorate the condition of those with physical disabilities, to undertake cataract operations and orphan marriages. The PSF ever since has undertaken the robust task of addressing disabilities and providing services to the needy, it has grown from strength to strength, as it continues to meet its commitments. In the words of the Professor, “Having arrived on the verge of three decades of functioning, I can gladly say that our journey has been an enlightening and inspiring one, coupled with amazing lessons, despite all the turmoil I faced”. The NGO overcame each hurdle with a firm commitment and untiring efforts of Prof Jagbir Singh. His motto is, ‘Disability is not an obstacle to success’. It is a big challenge since artificial limbs required visits to distant places like Jodhpur, Jaipur, Chandigarh and Delhi. For several years the disabled have been brought, in groups of 40 to 50, to these places to facilitate fitment of artificial limbs. These visits also contributed in them being shown the mainstream of the country and meeting different people.
A brief overview of services provided by the NGO in2018 includes, 86 artificial limbs, 20 wheelchairs, 4 tricycles, 20 hearing aids, 58 ortho walking sticks, 20 Orthoshoes, 20 crutches, 37 polio clippers,72 cataract operations and 3 poor orphan marriages among other selfless efforts. All this by a NGO in an inaccessible area with paltry monetary funds. Indeed, a praiseworthy effort.
The future challenges ahead of PSF are mainly two-fold. Firstly, the ‘software’ approach of empowering people and local institutions to manage their own affairs. NGOs in remote areas have to be sensitised of changes in the role of Government, the changing aid paradigm, and the effectiveness of a “right’s based” rather than “welfare” approach. Community poverty and illiteracy rates remain significant. Vocational training for skill development, inclusive education and community-based rehabilitation form the core areas.
Secondly, resource mobilization to raise funds for maintaining infrastructure and rehabilitative care. This requires formulating a fund-raising strategy. The foremost prerequisites are to identify existing resources and to plan the budget. The ancient oriental proverb ‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime’ surmises the need to meet these twin challenges. Empowerment should be through vocational education for a specific skill in a trade.
PSF deserves kudos for its humanitarian services in J&K specifically in the Poonch and Rajouri Districts. We have a moral duty to remove the barriers to participation, and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock the vast potential of people with disabilities particularly in remote backward areas. Society should mobilise its concerns to further empower the challenged persons both children and adult, as well as the vulnerableand deprived communities, so that, they may overcome their barriers, gain access to their rights and become useful productive citizens of our country.It is for the government and the people to come forth and extend support to this NGO.
“It is my hope that, beginning with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, this century will mark a turning point for inclusion of people with disabilities in the lives of their societies.”
– Professor Stephen W Hawking
(The author is a Major General)