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Sarbojonin in name only, not in practice - Guest column by Arita Acharjee & Annesha Dasgupta

October 15, 2018

Its the festive season around the country, but how inclusive are these so-called community celebrations? That's the theme our guest columnists from the Civilian Welfare Foundation (CWF) reflect upon this week. Based in Kolkata, the CWF has been working towards inclusion in many spheres in the city.

The disabled community of India has been long deprived of their most fundamental rights, no matter the stringent rules and regulations as outlined by the RPWD, 2016 Act. The CWF has been trying to do their part by lobbying for the rights of the para-athletes, to mediate sponsorship for the community and most importantly in trying to create social awareness about the unfortunate state of Indian Paralympics.

The Paralympians bring immense pride to our nation by frequently championing the arena and winning accolades across national and international platforms. However, receiving adequate attention from the mainstream media has been still a distant dream for so many of these extraordinary individuals.

To showcase the true depth of talent of our Bengal para-athletes, we have started a unique path of creating awareness among the common masses by showing and telling the public that the disabled community exists. The ultimate aim of our Para athletes to enjoy the peak of of Bengali celebrations and religious galore, which is the much venerated and anticipated celebration of Durga Puja.

The CWF arranges for an inclusive Puja Porikroma (puja pandal hopping) and accessibility audit for para athletes every year. This enables them to enjoy and essentially feel the momentary inclusiveness of the festivity.

For the pandal organisers, it provides them with the chance to review the level of accessibility of the puja pandals, which see maximum footfalls during the four days of this grand occasion.

However, the ignorant state of such structures ultimately creates a troubling reality, one where the disabled community are completely excluded from the overall celebrations. It has been observed that various Durga puja organisers, inspite of being repeatedly informed, fail to accommodate proper infrastructure. As a result, not one of the pandals till date have been found to be fully accessible by our audit survey.

It is the end goal for the organisation to create an inclusive ambience, through vigorous dissemination of disability rights and advocacy campaigns. Some pandals are seen to install ramps and even have a few wheelchairs. But there is no signage and Braille system in some of the most famous pandals.

The reality is harsh but to be Sarbojonin (for all) in every sense, we have to put the marginalized on the map.

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