Tuesday, 19 April 2011

How to become a fighter?

I was in Bidar district in north Karnataka (India), to evaluate the disability programme of ORBIT an organisation working for different groups of marginalized persons and watershed management. I went around the villages to meet the self-help groups of disabled persons.

Faint echoes of the anti-corruption campaign launched by Anna Hazare reached us, while I had my personal encounter with the small level corruption that permeates the life in India. It was difficult to find someone completely blameless in the corruption cycle. Is corruption justified if you are so poor that you can't have a life of dignity?

The Indian law asks for 3 percent of Panchayat budget to be reserved for persons with disabilities and persons with certified disabilities have right to receive pension, based on the degree of disablement.

"Persons in the Panchayat want bribe for giving any funds from the 3% reserved budget", "to get disability certificate you have to pay bribes", "to get disability pension they ask for bribes", were the frequent refrains. But persons asking for bribes were not just petty officials who rule the village lives. They were also village rehabilitation workers, persons who also had disability and who knew the challenges faced by other disabled persons in those villages.

And the poor disabled persons in the villages, if they could, were some times happy to manipulate and tell lies, so they could get additional benefits. How do you eliminate this corruption that does not spare anyone?

"But you are not few, if you all unite and ask for your rights, can't you fight this corruption?", I asked to one group headed by a small woman with sandalwood marks on her forehead, whose son was disabled.

"Alone we can't do any thing. We are weak and we need your help", she said and other persons in her group nodded in agreement.

Yet there were persons like Hashmat Bi, an elderly woman heading a group in another village. A childless first wife who also had disabilities due to leprosy, she had an infectious laugh. "I always fight, till they give up", she said simply, a natural leader. The bus drivers didn't want her and other disabled persons in their buses, but she fought till they gave in. Panchayat and district officers, in the end everyone gave in to her determined fights. In their group, everyone gets pension and she has used the Panchayat funds for starting different schemes in their village.

Hasmat bi, Bidar district, India

How can you make people become fighters for their rights like Hashmat Bi?


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