The polycentric World Social Forum is currently underway in Nairobi Kenya. With its popular slogan ‘Another World is Possible’ the WSF brings together activists, social and labour movements, networks, collations from all over the world for five days of cultural resistance and celebration in the form of panels, workshops, symposia, processions, film screenings and more.
Being such a mega event in resistance and a platform for an alternate agenda on development and globalization, every movement across the world has been vying to have their say and make themselves heard. Being associated with the disability sector in India, it would be interesting to see what an event like the WSF holds for us and to put together our thoughts to see how the seventy million strong sector can make themselves heard. And yet there are numerous stages to go before the disability sector becomes a force to lobby with.
The Disability sector in the country is still at a nascent stage and has only a small voice, most of it centered around the hubs of power such as Delhi or in State capitals. The common man in the predominant rural country is yet to awaken to this issue, the many ‘peoples movements’ presently occupying center stage are yet to take us seriously and so one of the most important task before the disability sector is to formulate a political perspective, keeping in tune with the major resistance movements against globalization, imperialism, privatization, liberalization and war. We need a political perspective keeping in mind the paradigm shift the sector is presently undergoing, from the charity based model to the rights based model. We need a political perspective that is grounded in justice, equality, accessibility and openness.
Formulating a political thought will not be easy, for PWDs are located in far flung corners and crannies of their villages, communities, societies and State. They live on the fringes of their communities but this does not mean they do not think. Infact when given a chances to speak they talk of great expectations from the State and from the movement. These thoughts and insights and dreams will have to be recognized, assiduously cultivated into a tide and built upon like a lokavidya.
Social movements all over the world have been tremendously strengthened politically from the perspective and visually from the media attention they receive from the WSF. They have been strengthened by the solidarity they receive from each other. The disability movement in India must make similar gains, winning allies and broad basing into other movements. There is an urgent need to address issues of marginalized sections of persons with disabilities like those coming from poverty stricken backgrounds, women, schedule castes and tribes and the severely disabled, who have very few platforms to express themselves. Being at the nascent stage it presently is, it would help for the disability sector to come together periodically at self created for a, like the WSF, where it can recognize and nurture smaller voices and movements, especially rural ones and initiate an ‘alternate’ cultural process.
It is also important to recognize that the world is in the midst of a huge process of reorganization along the lines of Knowledge. He, who has the knowledge, wields control. The vanguard of this reorganization of the world is the information and communication technology (ITC) and the internet. The fledging disability sector can least afford to be left behind; it must used the information super highway to its advantage. It is therefore worthwhile to recognize that it was not without reason that the UN theme for the 2006 International Day of Disabled Persons was ‘E-Accessibility’. With accessibility a major hindrance to persons with disabilities, e-accessibility is the way to network in a million different directions and at multiple levels.
India is on an onward rush towards so called ‘Development’, the economy is growing. But how much of this growth is being felt by persons with disabilities? Instead, welfare benefits are being withdrawn, medical welfare and health benefits are being reduced, so in investment in education, the withdrawal by the Government from key public sector initiatives and agriculture, even while supporting unfair trade practices is having an indirect and long term impact on the lives of people with disabilities. Thus there is a need for the Disability sector to make a statement on Development. In places like the WSF, where an alternate social development paradigm is being constructed the Disability sector must have a vocal presence. It must throw its might behind a sustainable, people and environment centered development that is equitable for all.