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Chhattisgarh: NGO's empowerment mission as disabilities people spike 48% in a decade

By Gazala Paul, Rimpa Verma*

Some challenges are seemingly lifelong. And so it is with Nomesh Kumar Verma of Tekari village of Dharsiwa block in Chhattisgarh's Raipur district. When he was only seven years old, Nomesh was diagnosed with sickle cell disease, a group of disorders that cause the red blood cells to become misshapen and break down. The red blood cells (RBCs) contort into a sickle shape, the cells die early, leaving a shortage of healthy RBCs, causing infections, pain, fatigue and in many cases a distinct limp.
Nomesh's mother passed away when he was only 10 years old. His father soon remarried but the stepmother, instead of being kind to the boy was rather cruel and vain. Nomesh would often be at the rough end of his stepmother's ire which would, more often than not, translate into and maltreatment. When he turned 14, Nomesh snapped and could not withstand the violence anymore. With his younger brother in tow, Nomesh left home and settled elsewhere in Raipur.
To put food on the table for his brother and himself, Nomesh would sell vegetables in the local village haat. But more trouble was in the offing. When he dropped out of Class IX, he was struck down by a severe form of the disease and was bed-ridden for a month. He approached the district hospital and was able to obtain documents that certified him (40 percent) as a person with disability (PWD). Not one to give up, Nomesh enrolled himself at the Raipur Polytechnic College where he underwent training as an electrician.
Nomesh met a number of other persons with disabilities with whom he struck up friendships and soon began to take interest in the welfare of this community. And, after befriending a community worker of Samerth Charitable Trust, Nomesh has not looked back. Samerth has been working among PWDs in two Chhattisgarh districts -- Raipur and Mahasamund -- since August 2017 when Sightsavers India funded and launched the Chhattisgarh Social Inclusion Programme (CSIP) for empowering PWDs.
Nomesh and his other PWD compatriots constitute about 21 million, according to the 2001 Census of India. The total PWD population rose by 22.4 percent to 26.8 million in the 2011. The Census shows that 20.3 percent of PWDs have movement disabilities, 19.9 percent have hearing impairment and 18.8 percent are visually challenged. The 2011 Census also collected data on mental disability, finding that 5.6 percent Indians with this disability are in this category.
As for Chhattisgarh, the disabled population has witnessed a whopping 48 percent rise from 2001 to 2011, with the number of disabled going up from 4.19 lakh to 6.24 lakh during the period. According to the 2001 Census, the number of disabled people in rural areas is 4.98 lakh compared to 1.26 lakh in urban areas. Movement disability is highest at 30.4 percent, followed by visual impairment disability at 17.7 percent. The percentage of those with hearing impairment disability is 14.7 percent, while the mentally challenged account for 53 percent.
The Samerth project is mainly focused on empowering PWDs socially and economically through capacity building and creating awareness about their rights and entitlements. The second vital aspect of the project is creating an enabling environment for PWDs through advocacy. The project is based on three key pillars of empowerment: Economic Empowerment, Strengthening Disabled Peoples’ Organisation (DPO), and providing an Enabling Environment.

Economic empowerment

PWDs are organised into self-help groups (SHGs) which are given training on in ways that improve their economic empowerment. This is achieved by providing training in different trades, marketing and entrepreneurship skills which help the PWDs to begin income generating activities and enhancing their financial bases. Samerth has so far facilitated the formation of 122 SHGs in the target districts. Of these, 60 SHGs are engaged in economic pursuits.
More importantly, PWDs were the focus since they are more vulnerable than men, primarily because they are dependent on family members or money. Apart from SHGs, several individual PWDs were also trained on trades and are now involved in economic activities.
In this connection, Samerth facilitated a five-day training on artificial jewelry-making for members of five SHGs of Dharsiwan block of Raipur district, along with marketing and pricing skills. Initially, they would sell their products at the local markets through a PWD named Somnath. He would sell the products using a wheelchair.
Gradually, however, the PWDs expanded their marketing strategy by contacting a number of social and ladies' clubs, designer groups and boutiques. This helped push their marketing techniques and they soon set up stalls at exhibitions and even received orders for jewellery from art galleries.
With time, the women began putting up stalls in distant cities such as Mumbai and Delhi. They also picked up the skill to package their products. With some research and cross-state interactions, the women PWDs found other options such as purchasing raw material from Kolkata, which helped them save inputs costs. They also took the opportunity to manufacture products related to seasonal festivals such as rakhi and earthen lamps.
These innovations improved their business services and linkages with new agencies for marketing their products. At present, these groups invest about Rs 10,000 in one go and produce jewellery for four to five months. These strategies have helped the women double their profits and given huge boost to the self-confidence.
From the project sustainability point of view, Samerth is facilitating the SHGs to register with NRLM (National Rural Livelihood Mission)/NULM (National Urban Livelihood Mission) through which they get free support for training on trades and marketing linkages of the products.
As of now, 30 SHGs have registered with NRLM and seven under NULM. Diversified livelihood at SHG level is being promoted to adopt more than one livelihood to ensure year-round livelihood. The project has proved that people with disabilities have and their physical conditions cannot stop them from achieving any goal. From mountaineering, entrepreneurship, social work and many other fields, Samerth has found differently-abled people who are carving a new niche for themselves and helping others do the same.
In the midst of Covid-19, Nomesh linked economically needy PWDs with  social welfare department to provide them with dry ration
In Mahasamund, the Abhinav Women Divyang Group obtained a contract from the district administration to run a restaurant named Saksham Gadkalewa (a place for Chhattisgarhi food) at the collectorate campus, in August 2020. Here people can enjoy Chhattisgarhi cuisine such as Chila, Farra, Chousela and typicali-khurmi etc. 
Gadkalewa is completely managed and operated by ‘Abhinav Women Divyang Group’. On the municipal corporation's initiative, the group was formed under the NULM, through the group previously did not do much other than saving money. While the objective was to strengthen PWDs economically and socially, the role of Samerth and Unnatti Divyang Sangh was no less vital. 
Samerth continuously provides hand-holding support to members of the group and their capacity-building plan is designed in ways to improve the serving, cooking and overall management of the restaurant. 

Strengthening disabled peoples’ organisation

As a part of the project intervention, PWDs of the targeted districts are being organised in DPOs (Disabled Peoples’ Organisations). The 2016 Rights of Person with Disability Act (RPWDA) is the institutional framework which helps DOPs raise their voice for their rights and entitlements due to them. Besides, the DPO leaders are trained in various skills such as leadership, documentation, advocacy etc. 
These skills help the DOPs in undertaking advocacy with the district and state administrations for providing accessible environment. With Samerth's facilitation, at present a total of 3,334 PwDs have been associated with DPO. Capacity building of PWDs on RPWDA and UNCRPD/ SDGs are done on a regular basis. This has resulted in the mobilisation and motivation of DPO members and now their leaders are taking initiatives for accessing the entitlements. DPO leaders in targeted districts are actively working for making medical certificates and getting assistive devices for PWDs.
Raipur district's empowered DPO advocated for the equitable rights of PWDs with regard to certification, with the government, and as a result the following decisions were taken:
  1. There will be separate queues for PWDs in registration counters
  2. The number of wheelchairs in the district hospital has increased 
  3. Certification will now be made twice a week instead of one day allotted previously 
  4. All due respect and proper behaviour will be shown/accorded while dealing with PWDs. 
Nomesh too has come a long way since he was associated with Samerth. He is today the president of the Kalyan Divyang Sangh, Raipur. With Samerth's facilitation, Nomesh has developed deft leadership and advocacy skills. In fact, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown, Nomesh undertook to link economically needy PWDs with the Chhattisgarh social welfare department to provide them with dry ration. 
Besides, he raised funds to support the families with masks, liquid hand soaps etc. He also created awareness among villagers and DPO members, especially on preventive measures against Covid-19. His story was published on Sightsavers' Facebook page, which gave him the opportunity to speak at webinars.

Enabling environment

PWDs face a number of cultural and physical barriers that restrict them from taking part availing of opportunities. This aspect of the project, focused on creating such a congenial environment, is aimed at creating a barrier-free environment for them. For this purpose, on the one hand, the larger community of non-PWDs are sensitised on issues related to those who are less fortunate. On the other hand, government functionaries are sensitised to form and implement inclusive policies.

Advocacy with State Election Commission for accessible election:

A series of individual meetings were conducted with the Chhattisgarh Chief Election Officer (CEO) for conducting a state-level sensitisation workshop for accessible elections. The workshop was organised in collaboration with the state social welfare department. As many as 27 state government officials took part in the workshop and were sensitised on practical problems that PWDs face when they step out to cast their franchise.
The workshop's impact was clearly exhibited during the last elections of 2018. Special arrangements such as wheelchairs, signage etc were made increasing the participation of the voting PWDs.
From time to time, sensitisation programmes have been organised for officials of the social welfare department, in so far as the PWDs' rights and entitlements are concerned. During the election, representatives of the social welfare department and welfare department, booth level and other officials were sensitised through workshops, video and audio programmes related to PWDs and advocated for inclusive and accessible elections. One of the outcomes was that model booths were made completely accessible while others kept wheelchairs for PWDs and aged voters.
Sensitisation and training sessions on inclusive education were conducted with the block and district level education officers along with teachers. A score card activity was conducted under a European Union-supported project on disability inclusion. In the process, an interaction meeting was conducted with block/district and state level officers from the education department. Scoring on different inclusive education-related indicators were shared with them, and as a result the department invited the DPO leaders for a consultation meeting on these issues.

Advocacy with Chhattisgarh minister for health and family welfare for sorting out certification issues:

As far as an enabling environment is concerned, a state level consultation meeting with Chhattisgarh health minister, state health services director and representatives of the social welfare department was organised in December 2019 for sorting out the issues related to the certification process and issuing of certificates for 21 types of disability. This resulted in the issuing of order from the health department to all collectors regarding increasing the number of days of certification and making district hospitals accessible for PWDs.

Public awareness and sensitization on disability:

 On the occasion of World Sight Day, on October 10, 2019, a mass awareness and sensitisation programme was conducted through games and entertainment. It was focused on sensitising the people on the day-to-day issues and challenges of persons with visual impairment.
A signature campaign was also organised which exhibited that more than 200 people agree on the challenges faced by visually challenged people. This had the salutary effect on people in terms of their positive sensitivity and perspective towards PWDs.
The Chhattisgarh Social Inclusion Programme has transformed the life of persons with disability along with creating an enabling environment for the inclusion of PWDs in society. Yet, the road ahead is tough and much needs to be done for them to lead a life of dignity and respect much as other normal humans expect.
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*Gazala Paul is founder and managing trustee of Samerth; Rimpa Verma is the programme coordinator, based at Raipur, Chhattisgarh

Comments

Kashmira Doshi said…
Commendable work done by Samerth and special Applauds for Ghazala ,who has dedicated her life for welfare of under privileged communities of our society.

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