“Javed Bhai’s thinking was way ahead of his time”. – Arman Ali, Executive Director, NCPEDP
Late disability rights leader Javed Abidi left a deep, enduring impact on people who came into his orbit. This week NewzHook is carrying a tribute series on his birth anniversary. Today, Arman Ali, Executive Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), shares his memories.
I saw Javed bhai for the first time in 1998 December. I was in New Delhi to receive the national award and was invited to a National convention organised by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP).
I was based in Guwahati then and had had no exposure to disability rights as such. When I saw Javed bhai I recall thinking that this was someone one could learn a lot from by simply observing. Even if you didn’t get to interact with him closely, watching him had many lessons. Later, I did get the opportunity to work with him although not directly. He recommended that I join the Disability Law Unit – North East at Guwahati-based NGO Shishu Sarothi.
I think of myself as a confident man but Javed bhai was one man I fumbled talking to. It was like being in the presence of a teacher. Even now, I find myself thinking, ‘am I doing the right thing?’, and wish he was around so I could have worked under him and learned from him. It would’ve been a different ballgame altogether.
No doubt, his death has left a vacuum. He was such a powerful personality.
So many instances come to my mind when I look back at his legacy. Like in 2004-2005, a group of us, including Javed bhai, went to the World Social Forum in Mumbai. It was completely inaccessible for people with disabilities and all of us in the group were struggling with our crutches and wheelchairs. Javed bhai mobilised people and turned the event into a protest. He was such a thinker and doer. He didn’t need to take opinions from 10 people before deciding on a course of action. He just knew what needed to be done.
Similarly, in 2014 the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill was in the Rajya Sabha and we were all lobbying to get it passed. Some three or four days were left for the session to end and we were working hard at it, sometimes missing meals. On one of those days, some of us we went to the Constitution Club to meet BJP leader Arun Jaitley to push for our demands and found him quite lukewarm. Javed bhai saw that and quickly said ‘Go and block Rafi Marg, now!’ In a matter of hours, Rafi Marg was choked.
Ability to rally every one
After that we have not had a protest or movement on that scale that brought cross disability groups together. This conviction Javed bhai had about his ideas was remarkable. He looked at things from a political angle and rallied people together. Here I was a man from Guwahati who didn’t know him that well and look at the impact he has had. Imagine if he had been able to mentor us more.
Another instance of his inclusive approach was his attitude towards the North East. Javed bhai always said NE India was special to him and even before we met, he had partner organisations in Assam. He recognised the fact that this was a region that was remote with low awareness levels. He ensured that there was representation of people from this region in the disability network.
When I think of his legacy, there are so many. A key one is the importance of sustaining advocacy efforts. Also, do your homework well and by this, I mean to know the law, so you are aware of what you are talking about. Javed bhai’s communication skills were powerful, both in his thought process and writing. The very idea of looking at disability from a rights perspective in a country like India where people lack a rights-based attitude and people with disabilities regard themselves as helpless and weak shows that his thinking was way ahead of his time.
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