BANGLADESH — More than 26.8 million people in India live with disabilities. In a country such as India, where survival depends largely on your ability to work, often with disability comes poverty. This combination can be devastating, and the issue is complicated further by its prevalence and regular occurrence.
With approximately 2.2 percent of the total population of India having a disability, the issue simply does not receive the attention it should. This creates a social phenomenon in which disabled children in India become “invisible.”
One of these disabled people is Lahkan. Lahkan is a young child suffering from cerebral palsy who is also deaf and mute. After his father passed, his mother left, and his older sister ran away, Lahkan was left in the care of his grandmother Sabuki. At 70 years old and with limited access to resources, Sabuki did the best she could to take care of Lahkan.
Sabuki made what little money she could selling toys and trinkets on a popular beachfront in Mumbai and used this to purchase food from a local street vendor. Sabuki and Lahkan lived behind bus stop 59, a short distance from Mumbai Women and Children’s Affairs offices, including the office of the minister, Varsha Gaikwad.
Lahkan made news after a photo of him tied to a pole was taken and published by local media. Sabuki had tied the deaf child to the pole to prevent him from running into traffic. This disturbing image caught the attention of local police who then referred the case to social services. A social worker in India named Meena Mutha took the case and was able to eventually find shelter for Lahkan.
Mutha reports that “there is a serious shortage of residential facilities for children with disabilities in Mumbai,” the largest city in India and the fourth largest urban area in the world. As a result, Lahkan is currently being held in a juvenile center. Mutha notes that this is not a place for a disabled child but that it is the best she can do for now. Both the head of the juvenile center and Mutha are currently looking for a more fitting place for Lahkan to stay.
Education can provide the opportunity to escape poverty but in India the disabled often lack access to education. However, recent developments offer promise in regards to education. A district mission in Kollam, India has raised enough money to build 16 rehabilitation centers for children with disabilities. The children will receive training and education at these centers.
The district mission coordinator for the Kudumbashree mission notes, “Poverty denies the children opportunities for medical help and education.” This is where the Kudumbashree mission aims to make an impact. The mission and rehabilitation centers will provide lessons in self-reliance and also offer free transport for the students to ensure a safe commute. The focus of these centers will be on the overall development and education of disabled children.
A recent policy by the Indian government may mandate a zero rejection rule for disabled children in all schools, public and private. The policy Education of Children With Special Needs includes seven required principles that could take education to a new level in India. Also included in the bill are requirements for accommodations by schools including ramps and easily accessible classrooms for disabled students. There are some solutions in the works but the issue still needs to be addressed on a larger scale.
Dr. Shabnam Rangwala, who works with the local non-profit Able Disable People Together, comments that poverty and disability is a dangerous combination. If we address the issue of disabilities, in doing so we can also address the issue of poverty.
– Christopher Kolezynski