“We don’t have dis-ability, we have a different-ability”

Ritesh Gupta, Govind Sharma
The American essayist, lecturer, philosopher and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson has rightly said, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” This quote applies very well to daughter of Jammu and Kashmir, Sandhya Dhar, who was among 29 women that were conferred the prestigious Nari Shakti Puraskar by President Ram Nath Kovind at Rashtrapati Bhawan, New Delhi, on International Women’s Day.
Sandhya Dhar, who herself is a disabled person, was conferred the prestigious award for her contribution and dedication towards the rights of under privileged and disabled persons. Her lower limbs are not functioning and she is confined to wheel chair but she did not allow her disability to become an impediment in her life and worked hard to carve a niche for herself in the society to become an inspiration for others. Despite being a disabled person, she decided to work for the society and today, she is running an educational institution in Jammu for the disabled and under privileged people, besides working for the rights of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs).
In an exclusive interview to EXCELSIOR, Sandhya Dhar, who is now known for her abilities and not disabilities, shared her journey so far and threw light on various issues and problems of the PwDs. She also briefed about work done by her for the underprivileged and disabled persons, besides steps needed to be taken for the betterment and welfare of the PwDs by the Government as well as society as a whole. Here are some excerpts of the interview:
Q- You have been awarded with Nari Shakti Puraskar by President of India. In which category did you get this award and what is your contribution towards the society?
Ans- I was awarded for my contribution, indomitable spirit and dedication towards rights of PwDs. Being a disabled person, I always wanted to do something for the disability sector and education of the underprivileged people. I started giving free tuition to the poor children when I was only 15 and since then the process is going on. In the year 2015, I set up an inclusive educational institution under the name and style ‘Jammu Institute of General Education & Rehabilitation’ (JIGER) at Sector-4, Gangyal and at present 75 underprivileged and disabled children are undergoing education in this Institute.
Besides education, the disabled children are given physiotherapy at the Centre by Dr Anshi Zutshi and medical camps are being organized for such children three to four times in a year with the support of Pediatrician Dr Rajesh Koul. Wheel chairs, devices for assistance, talking calculator and walking sticks to these people are provided in the camp. We also conduct seminars in various universities of Jammu as well as Degree Colleges of the region to educate the people about the rights of PwDs.
Q- Many laws meant for PwDs have not been implemented in Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover, majority of the buildings in the UT are not disabled-friendly. What do you want to say about it?
Ans- In December 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had started ‘Sugmya Bharat Abhiyan’ (Accessible India Campaign) for achieving universal accessibility for PwDs but nobody knows about this campaign. Orders in this connection come out time to time but they are not implemented on ground. Recently, we visited a park in our vicinity and we were surprised to see that that there was a ramp in the entrance of the park but before that there were stairs and one could reach the ramp only after climbing the stairs. I was unable to understand the logic behind that construction in the park.
She said not only Government buildings but also ATMs, parks and public transport should be accessible for PwDs. We have made a big request to Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding currency. Our currency has been converted into BAIL but that BRAIL touch is not found in it. So, after a lot of research, we have told the PM how much BRAIL touch should be in the currency so that the blind people can recognize the same. The PM has also assured us to bring such currency very soon.
Q- In your point of view, what are limitations there in J&K when we talk about the rights of the disabled people?
Ans- Laws are there, schemes are there and what we need is to raise awareness among the PwDs and also among the general public so that they may understand the problems of the PwDs as people generally fail to recognize some specific type of disabled persons like Thalassemia and Haemophilia patients. Government issues Unique Disability ID (UDID) card to PwDs which helps normal people to identify these types of PwDs but all PwDs do not have these cards.
Camps should be organized to identify disabled persons and to issue them UDID cards and only then, they should be given disability pension. Further, there is need to set up special courts to implement laws framed for PwDs as there are many laws but their implementation on the ground is not visible.
Q- We also see protests by the PwDs in J&K regarding various issues and demands. What appeal do you want to do in this connection to Government of India?
Ans- One of the issues of PwDs is enhancement of monthly pension which at present is Rs 1000 only in J&K. This demand is very genuine as Rs 1000 is a meager amount. You know that the expenses only on diapers of PwDs with spinal cord injury is Rs 600 per day. What he/she will do with Rs 1000? Cost of a wheel chair knob is even more than Rs 1000 if it becomes out of order. I can afford as I am earning but not all PwDs have any other source of income. There should be schemes/provisions even for these things in Social Welfare Department. Even for those PwDs who are earning, there should be loan facility.
Q- What do you think Government should do so that all PwDs get registered as a large number of PwDs in J&K are still not registered with Social welfare Department and hence they are deprived of Government schemes?
Ans- Government should conduct door to door survey to register the disabled persons and for this purpose a team comprising officials of CMO office and Social Welfare Department should be formed so that PwDs may get UDID card at their doorsteps. During Coronavirus lockdown, I helped around 200 PwDs to get UDID cards without going outside. Volunteers should also come forward and work in this direction. We should not leave everything to the Government, society should also play its role.
Q- Many parents do not want to reveal about the disability of their children. What would you like to say to those parents?
Ans- Parents should accept the disability of their children and find solutions. They should not confine their disabled children in four walls of the house. If a PwD does not go out, he will not get solution of his disability. It is important to go out to get solution of your disability.
Q- You met with President of India as well as the Prime Minister during award ceremony at New Delhi. How was your experience?
Ans- It was a very good experience and I can’t explain it in words. Both President as well as the PM listened to every contestant and their experiences with patience. We were feeling proud standing in front of them as they recognized our work towards society.
Q- It is generally complained that deserving people remained deprived of the awards and the undeserving people get the honour. What do you think about it?
Ans- I can only say that this time only deserving people got Nari Shakti Puraskar. Twenty-nine women were awarded this time (14 for last year and 15 for this year). Those women were not good looking. ‘Aadiwaasis’ were among them and some of them were wearing sleepers in their feet. They were not famous personalities or film actors but common women. I feel present Government has recognized good work and not good faces.
Q- What is your message for those PwDs who consider themselves weak and prefer to remain away from social life?
Ans- Nobody is weak in this world. One’s thinking makes him weak or strong. If you set some aim or objective for yourself and make honest efforts to achieve that, none of your physical disability can stop you from reaching there.