Taking Javed Abidi’s legacy forward – Guest Column by Shameer Rishad, Convenor, Javed Abidi Foundation
In the guest column this week, Shameer Rishad, Convenor of the Javed Abidi Foundation, shares his thoughts on how he hopes to take the legacy of the late disability rights leader forward.
Many words come to my mind when I think of my uncle Javed Abidi. Some are words which go on to showcase his admirable qualities. Like, he always made me feel safe like nothing could ever go wrong. All hell could break loose, but he wouldn’t stop smiling or poking jokes. Then there were his eccentricities that drove me mad. Like never driving over a certain speed limit or the need to find a proper place for everything.
One thing is for sure is that he was the most dependable man I have seen in my life. He took care of me when I cried, bought me chicken and ice-cream when I was hungry, talked to me even when he was tired at the end of the day when I was just being a stupid teenager with my inconsequential problems. I wish at times I could trade a soul or two to have him back in my life for a few moments. He was something that I aspired to be.
Then again, would I be walking this path if he were here? Would I be doing all this if my hero was here to take care of me and fix all issues and problems? Would I have set up the Javed Abidi Foundation (JAF)?
Nothing I do is going to bring him back, but I feel that every step or misstep brings me closer to him. I think he would be proud of me because I am proud of who I have become in the time I have lost him.
Why Javed Abidi Foundation
The aim of JAF is to embody the spirit of Javed Abidi, his integrity, tenacity, ethics and sheer will power that I want to hone in myself and other like-minded youth. The goal we have set is to identify young people with disabilities who are as crazy as my uncle when it comes to furthering the cause of disability. They can achieve this by working on the effective implementation of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 and evidence-based advocacy, as the law has the power to change the lives of millions.
It was surreal learning for me when I started visiting different universities to talk about disability rights and the Act. Students with disabilities didn’t know who Javed Mammoo was and many of them complained that in India there was nothing happening when it came to furthering a rights-based approach.
When I traveled to different states, other than NGO heads, ground level workers had no idea there was a law in place or about the man that I so deeply care about. I started wondering how we are going to work with people who don’t know about their fundamental rights. How can we change this? Will my telling them help or will they just feel that a city boy has come to give ‘gyaan’? This taught me that advocacy was needed to create awareness and leaders need to emerge from local communities so ownership over an issue is built.
Future goals of JAF
I hope to develop JAF organically as a youth initiative over the next five years, as I pursue my college education. I see this as an incubation lab that gives me and other young people a platform to learn and experiment with mainstreaming disability in their areas of work. This will be a step towards creating a more enabling environment in the long run.
The Vision Ahead
Nobody can replace Javed Abidi and there isn’t such an expectation. He worked in the disability space for over three decades. I am just a 22-year- old figuring out how I can contribute to his body of work and I want to keep testing out different strategies to do so. I want to dig deep to do hard core, evidence-based advocacy and have fun while doing it! Which is also why I say JAF stands for Journalism Advocacy and Fun.
That is why I have not institutionalised JAF so far. I want to keep working as a youth advocacy group until I finish my studies. We want JAF to be an incubation lab of ideas for youth to try out different strategies, not shy away from making mistakes, but keeping at it, trying to do it differently if one strategy doesn’t work.
The only reason I registered JAF as a trust was to preserve the name and legacy of the man I loved.
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