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Extreme sensitivity towards fellow human beings – A rare expression these days

Visiting the formerly famous VRCH, now National Centre for Skill Enhancement Program, was a great learning.  The young professional welcomed us, the three faculty members with a score of students on a field visit, lead us to the interior of the building.   He initiated with the procedure of selection for the various courses of vocational skill enhancement. During rounds to different sections, we entered the room of electrical home appliances nearly a dozen were involved in practical activity. The trainer in the section took over the task of explaining the details. The trainer was explaining while the young professional pointed to a keenly involved worker with locomotor disability in the group and said he was a student in the same section, and is a trainee at present.  Called him to explain about the work he is doing.  As he was in between his work, surrounded by a group of keenly observing students, said he will complete it and come forth to explain. Probably he felt that his explanation wasn’t required as we were already introduced to the type of skill or maybe he wasn’t comfortable to come out distinguishably and explain or he felt that he was being called without purpose. He continued his work with single minded devotion. Something we need to learn. He demonstrated ‘work is worship’ without much ado.

Next visit was to a tailoring room. Young girls with hearing impairment dominated the group. I was walking around the section and stopped near one girl just to listen to the explanation being given by the tutor there. She immediately offered her chair to me which I did not accept.  She made me accept it through her gestures to the extent that I could not refuse. After I sat, She took another chair from the room and sat on it. Such gestures are very rare to find with the population now a days.  The hospitality and goodness she exhibited was too embarrassing to an ordinary person like me, I asked myself would I be doing this for someone?  There was no sign of impersonal feeling towards a stranger, she was doing it just for a fellow human being.  They accept us the strangers as their loved ones, showing care and concern for us.

A girl with low vision was standing close to me in Dr. Reddy’s foundation and listening. When I touched a chair facing the opposite side to the speaker,  the girl immediately rotated it in 360 degree to make it to face the speaker. She understood that I was intending to sit to listen to the person in the section who was addressing us.  What was unique was that it was done without putting forth the impression that any help was being extended. I was amazed by the dedication, solidarity and promptness to respond to someone’s unexpressed need.

A person with visual impairment was training a newly admitted girl in computer application section. When he was asked to open a word file, he immediately did so and types his name on it, so spontaneous, no hesitation, do doubt, no confusion. Fully confidant, maturity oozing in  his actions.  I interacted with him regarding his prior education and came to know that he has a bachelors in music and presently pursuing masters in music. When we showed our keenness to listen to him sing, without requiring persuasion he started a Hindi song.  His presence of mind was such that the song echoed his concealed feelings when he went on….…jag ne cheena mujhse, jo chaaha tha mai ne ….. which made all of us look into each other’s eyes in appreciation and avoid at the same time to hide the thin film of moisture most of us had unknowingly.  Such was the melody in his voice and the emotional expression in a very confidant, steady gait.

There is LOT to learn from people with disability around us. The benefit of inclusive education is that we get people from diverse backgrounds living with us from whom we can learn ‘life’. Just being exposed to them is a learning experience. It is invaluable for children during their formative years. The humane qualities embedded in the people with disabilities are beyond imagination.   I am convinced that inclusive education is an excellent opportunity to reflect and reciprocate to fill the society with love, care and compassion.

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The third gender – why are we silent?

Being different attracts undue attention in our social arena.  Confining to norms thus comes to us naturally.  We stretch beyond limits to suit ourselves to our immediate environment.  Be it physical, attitudinal or behavioral. Now with the recent Policies of the Government for inclusive education, diversity is being accepted and nurtured.  What matters is the ‘confidence and the inner strength!’ Inclusion is about building the inner strength and mounting confidence.  It is valuing difference, immaterial of the limitations imposed due to biological conditions.

When we discuss people being different and including them in the school for the purpose of education, fortunately we have reached a stage where we think of children with disabilities.  With several Acts, Policies and programmes, we are getting sensitive to the needs of children who are different with respect to their language and cultural practices too.  But the group of people still remaining away from education and thus from participation in the society are the transgender.  We talk less of including children whose identity does not fit into the stereotypical gender norms.   Transgender people have existed since time immemorial and have been recorded in mythology and history.  Still they are treated as outcasts in the society because they are neither like men or women.  They differ in their physical appearance and personal characteristics. Transgender persons are also part of society and have equal, rights as are available to others. The discrimination based on their gender makes them one of the most disempowered and deprived groups in Indian society. India’s Supreme Court has recognized transgender people as a third gender, in a landmark ruling.  “It is the right of every human being to choose their gender,” it said in granting rights to those who identify themselves as neither male nor female.  It ordered the government to provide transgender people with quotas in jobs and education in line with other minorities.

An individual’s gender expression is external and socially perceived. Gender expression refers to all of the external characteristics and behaviors that are socially defined as either masculine or feminine, such as dress, mannerisms, speech patterns and social interactions.  The society gives more importance to gender expression.  But from an individual’s point of view gender identity is what matters.  It is an individual’s internal, deeply felt sense of being male, female or in between.   As gender identity is internal and personally defined and it is not visible to others people in the society is not concerned about it.  In its broadest sense, transgender encompasses anyone whose identity or behavior falls outside of stereotypical gender norms.

In India there are a host of socio – cultural groups of transgender people.  Though an accurate and reliable estimate is not available, According to one estimate, India has about two million transgender people.   We need to include them in all the activities of the human field and value their contribution for an inclusive growth.  Their number does not matter, but it is recognizing them as equal member of society is the need of the hour.

India being a highly populated country with different religions, cultures, castes and languages, the third gender are an invisible minority.  The not so common identity of theirs is a serious issue which needs to be addressed.  They are discriminated in our society in all walks of life be it school or any other public place.  The glaring example for this is that public toilets and most of the applications for admission to schools, colleges and employment have only two options under gender.

According to ‘Sahodari Foundation” working for the transgender, 90% of transgender don’t complete their secondary school education.  Due to their limited academic knowledge, employers offer them menial jobs.   This forces them to leave the job and engage themselves in their stereotypical profession, though they are socially unacceptable.  Fortunately due to the efforts of some activists, scholarships are offered for those who are interested in pursuing education in colleges and universities.  This is a revolutionary step in empowering them.  Educating the transgender by providing them with skill development can change their lives for better.  Academic skills along with specific vocational skills will prepare them to take up respectable jobs and lead a independent life.  The empowered transgender persons who have made a difference in their status as writers, activists political leaders, speakers and actors are worthy of emulation.  It should guide the educationists to open the doors of schools and colleges for them and addressing their needs appropriately.

Transgender people in India have been excluded from effectively participating in social and cultural life.  A primary reason of the exclusion is perceived to be the lack of recognition of the gender status. A cruel social practice of segregating them the moment they show the characteristic of the third gender appears to be the main reason for them to stay away from school.  They are still segregated in the community, without being empowered to participate in a natural way.  Reports of harassment, violence, denial of services, and unfair treatment against transgender persons in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodation have been discussed in media, for which we react empathetically and forget.

The problems faced by the Transgender community have been articulated by the National Legal Services Authority (NLSA).   In short, transgender persons are deprived of the fundamental rights available to the other two sexes i.e. male and female, and are not considered as the third sex. They are deprived of many of the rights and privileges which other persons enjoy as citizens of India. The transgender are deprived of social and cultural participation, are shunned by family and society, have only restricted access to education, health services and public spaces, restricted rights available to citizens such as right to marry, right to contest elections, right to vote, employment and livelihood opportunities and various human rights such as voting, obtaining Passport, driving license, ration card, Identity Card etc. The transgender community is treated as a legal non-entity in violation of the Constitution of India. In view of the constitutional guarantee, the transgender community is entitled to basic rights and that includes right to education. Moreover, every person must have the right to freely express their gender identity and be considered as a third sex.  The problems, faced by transgender in getting proper educational facilities must be recognized by the Ministry both at the Central and State Governments and work on much needed reform.    The Constitution provides for the fundamental right to equality, and tolerates no discrimination on the ground of sex. The Constitution also guarantees political rights and other benefits to every citizen. But the third gender continues to be excluded from getting the Constitutional rights. Since gender is taken to mean only male and female, the transgender cannot avail the benefits of Constitutional rights and avail of facilities and benefits available to the male and female genders in various fields including education.

Transgender persons must be properly documented in census. There is need for reservation in education, elections and employment both in the public and private sectors. They need to be empowered and uplifted by facilities for higher education and vocational training to upgrade their earnings and status in society so as to promote their acceptability in society. When the society sees them functioning and contributing for development, the discrimination against them can reduce.  To begin with, including them in education is the best way.

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Can we decide for a life yet to be born?

Give women the choice by Devi Shetty and Sneha Iype was an interesting article in Time of India on March 31st Friday 2017. Give women the choice It was on Supreme Court verdict of turning down a request for Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) from a 27 week pregnant woman with a Down’s syndrome foetus.  Many countries allow MTP even at advanced stages in case of foetal anomaly, but India does not.  The most humble and humane doctor puts forth the argument that if mother feels that she can’t take care of the child with certain conditions, she should have the right to end the life within at the later stage even after 20 weeks as prescribed the law.  The doctor has voiced his genuine concern very sincerely by pointing at the probable pain and suffering by both the mother and the child.

Can we decide on the life of someone else who is yet to be born?  Even if mother is given the choice will it not be skewed by the societal and family more than individual?  Disability is a social construct and highly contextual.  Living in a society with stigma attached to disability is difficult and traumatic useless the mother’s choice will never to unbiased.  Her decision making gets highly influenced by the social angle and family pressure.  Moreover the medical model of locating the problem in the individual and thus perceiving that they are suffering is still prevailing at the professional level.  If we start looking at disability from the human rights angle total scenario changes. Disability of the child could be a chance for deep learning in life, they may achieve if guided in the right direction, they may enjoy the life to fullest if opportunity is given or the prenatal diagnosis may turn out to be false!!  (Ghai & Johri, 2008) Prenatal Diagnosis where do we draw the line?

But coming to the basic discussion when we have abolished female foeticide it is it just not to hamper the natural balance or is it valuing the nature’s choice?  When our constitution has enshrined “right to living” does a child with disability do not have that right?  No doubt the life span may be less but is it not better to counsel the parents and prepare them for a life than to shun away from reality?  Very difficult choice indeed.  But it would be great to have a conversation with children with disabilities and find out their love for life.  This may give a chance to the judiciary to take a stand.  In addition as a state, it would be highly appreciated if we could work towards creating a society with acceptance and embrace all- go the nature’s way.  Difference is law of nature, accept all, accommodate by creating equal opportunity to nurture every individual to the extent possible.  Ultimately differences are not for divide but contrast that provides synergies.  Given a thought, differences should unite the family and the society.

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A slice from the pages of a warden’s diary – 2

Chenni is a woman of my age or little younger to me who comes to work in my home, cleans the floor, washes vessels, clothes daily.  She is Odiya speaking not even a single word from any other language she is aware of.  Initially I was a bit concerned as to how will I get my work done without common language.  Still I hired her as I was looking for a help in order to concentrate on my other roles and responsibilities with little more extra time devoted to it.  Swift in her body movement and highly predictable with her sequence of work and words used, and extremely committed and loyal; this is a profile of the tiny woman who is taller and larger than “Trivikrama”, as for me  avataras of Vishnu is just a story reminding expression among lives around.

She knows her work before I could spell, nothing extra either in movement or words. Enter the door with a broom, sweep, bring a bucket of water and mop the floor, walk straight to the sink with vessels, clean, dump on the kitchen slab enter the bathroom to wash clothes hang them to dry, inform that she is leaving and vanish into the space.

I said through my action the first day of her work that kitchen waste to be emptied daily to a small garbage pit I dug in the corner of the yard and to put the non degradable like plastics in a dustbin firmly tied.  It is an year since she is working with me not even a single day has mixed biodegradable and non degradable and religiously puts the waste in its respective place as per first days’ instruction.

From three years as warden in the hostel whenever I go on rounds in the corridor I see dogs pulling bread,  crows and cats eating rice and other food waste thrown in the dustbin along with plastic bags and several other garbage, not to mention what.  Repeated requests, instructions, insults on decent management of sanitary napkins fallen on deaf ears and all blind to the garbage created around due to throwing of shampoo sachets or the soaps covers, napkin covers  wet and coloured thrown out of bathroom windows irrespective of the place it falls on.  It may be the front yard of the warden’s residence or on the head, back or shoulders of the gardeners working.  I was reading a news item of a school warden force stripping a bunch of girls to see who is menstruating as she found the blood strained bathroom, drawing parent and public wrath.  Alas, I understand the woes of the warden, at times when a fresh pad fell on her head or shoulder while setting out to work for the day.  Repeated instructions and requests made by the warden is unknown to the parents and public who are highly sensitive to the issues of girls ( In no way I am supporting the action of the warden but just analysing the situation from her perspective)

I have grown a handy kitchen garden to save my time of rushing to market for want of curry leaves, coriander, pudina and green chilli along with few easily growing vegetables.  There are few fruit trees and a drumstick tree which someone has nurtured so that it yields for the posterity.  A neem tree standing high and mighty testimonial to the  ‘n’ number of batches of students and wardens staying there.  The neem tree flowers profusely during summer.  Chenni asks me politely if she can take a handful of neem flower, or drumstick leaves.  (Never she has asked for drumsticks, mangoes or even the tomatoes and chillies growing in the yard).  When I don’t understand her language she will call me near the window show the plant, walk there to touch the flowers or leaves she is asking for.  Only after my nod she picks as little as she needs, keeps a small portion for me and says how to cook it and it is good for health.  I prepare all that she says probably because of the warmth and concern with which she says.  She climbs on the gate, gently bends the branch, plucks the flowers/ leaves without wasting or harming the tree.   My students walk into my yard usually when I am away in the institute, or sometimes when I am inside silently without my TV on during the weekends.  They hit the tree for fruit, leaves and flowers from the first or second floor where they stay.  The fully grown, not fully grown drumsticks are hit mercilessly to collect.  The broken branches, fallen leaves and unwanted fruits are left scattered in the yard without even a thought given to it.  They have never bothered to keep few for me either in the tree or after removing from the tree.   Without discrimination the young and the old, the budding and blooming chillies, tomatoes and custard apples are hit hard and collected by    the students not caring for their bearer or the carer.  Till I saw the cruelty meted on them on a silent Sunday afternoon, I was under the impression that the workers or some outsiders pluck them when I am away!!!

I wonder on my role as a teacher educator, how am I preparing the future teachers? We need the likes of Chenni more for the country than the students studying physics, chemistry, biology, math, and many more subjects as part of their curriculum.  The hope of the country is on them to shape its future.  But how many Chennis who are humane, humble and conscious of the environment are we caring for? They are the real strength to our nation, but fade into the oblivion, unnoticed.  Lest we learn from them!!

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A slice from the pages of a warden’s diary – 1

After a late night of tackling girls missing at the hostel, the harsh door bell of the warden rings to wake me up at 6:00 AM. The pleasantries and the prayers of the morning are left behind in the mattress, blanket, pillow and bed sheets as I rush for the door. A well dressed, well groomed final year student at the door demanded permission to go to the hospital for a scan. She insisted that the appointment with the doctor could not be ignored and there would be problem if not permitted. All the right kind of thoughts and virtues that had been inculcated through the night to deal with the perennial issues of the students got pushed down the drain. The reaction was spontaneous and heated: “why didn’t you come in the evening? Why no letter requesting permission for a visit to the doctor early in the morning at 6:00”? Like a piercing arrow came the reply “You don’t deny outing for hospitals?” A single syllable answer “go” was the only thing I could do to save me from the morning blues,  closed the door and looked around for positive thinking recalling all the positive WhatsApp posts and posters that are read day in and out. I throw myself to the small challenges of daily chores to clear the dirty thought of perennial student problems. The bed is made, a warm cup of water with honey goes down the husky throat. A visit to the toilet….. O’ dear the door bell rings again. Three times consecutively even before I manage to reach the door again to see the same face. An application is promptly handed with the phrase “sign please”. “Bhaiya gate se jane nahin de rahe hain without permission letter.” At least the gate keeper is scared after the night blast and is following orders . Well when people have a salaried job they are bound to follow orders. The care taker will be held responsible if any girl goes out without a warden’s written permission accompanying her.  Self talk, early morning resolutions failed to stay calm. Unlike the self that the warden is she is transformed into hot burning coal and shouts back” how many of you have decided to disturb in the morning by ringing my bell constantly…………………..blah blah blah……sign……blah blah blah…….sign……blah blah….blah sign. All the anger vented into that one signature. Sitting with a cup of coffee and talking to family members over the phone recomposed the self. Finished cooking lunch and started to dressing up for the office………..comes a phone call………a first year student wanting some time to talk. She was bluntly told the hostel office timings. By this time the warden started wondering whether wardenship and its perennial issues had made her a completely different person. Again the bell rings. A brigade stands at the door. Mess Members of the republic day asking for money for additional eatables on that day which has not been provided by the caretaker because of financial crunch. Evaded them by telling them to come in the evening in spite of their requests to deal with the problem there and then as the next day itself was republic day. But what could one do. At the end of the day one also had to perform the primary duty of the faculty of an institute. The warden now grabbed her laptop, bag and keys and rushed for the door. Locking the gate I was again attacked by a housekeeping staff who always borrowed money from me. The housekeeping staff was also sharply told that I was late and could not hear to any more problems. The wild blooms, the sun rays, the chirping birds couldn’t soothe my owes. At the back of the mind the thoughts lingered that all whom I had avoided will be there to meet me at the doorsteps in the evening. And there awaited the herculean task of explaining the difference between “appointment with a doctor and doctor visit on emergency”.  As I entered the institute to take my 9 am class, deeply desired that sister BK and Sri Sri Sri, Sadguru, and Swamy ‘X’ spend at least one year as a warden in the girls hostel and then move into the world to spread their wisdom.

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