Charkha Visits Leh-Ladakh
By Anshu Meshack
In the remote mountainous region of Leh-Ladakh in the Himalayas, persons with physical disability face the additional disadvantage of inaccessible terrain and scattered villages, making mobility extremely difficult. Most remain unschooled and bear the brunt of social ostracism, borne by traditional beliefs. Creating an Information Network to give them access to their rights and entitlements requires a simultaneous effort to provide them a sustainable means of livelihood to become productive members of society.
A Charkha team comprising Mr Shankar Ghose and Anshu Meshack traveled to Leh between Aug 29 and Sep 03, 2011 to explore ways of helping a nascent Ladakhi group, People’s Action Group for Inclusion and Rights (PAGIR), strengthen such a network.
The need for a disability-focused Multimedia Rural Resource Center was recognized, to enable sharing of information about their rights and to advocate for these rights with the governance institutions and communities alike. Sustaining such a network, however, requires a strong livelihood component which will provide dignity and sustenance to the individuals involved. Availing benefits from State-sponsored schemes and facilities, it was found, can facilitate such initiatives.
Strengthening the income-generation activities of PAGIR is, thus, a pre-requisite for the Information Network to be successful. PAGIR’s current livelihood program, Jungwa Shunskyob, teaches physically-disabled artisans how to create products from waste paper and cloth. These are sold at a sales outlet in Leh town and in Handicraft Exhibitions such as the one held by the State Tourism Department during the annual Ladakh Festival from Sep 1 to 15.
Such exhibitions serve as a platform to share information about PAGIR’s work and draw attention towards the challenges faced, as well as inherent strengths and talents, of people with disability.
PAGIR’s advocacy work touches the lives of its members by giving them aid and advice in a variety of matters. This includes informing eligible persons when government job vacancies are announced and helping individuals submit their forms in government offices as required. Children of members are also looked after, such as this one (see right) born to a hearing-impaired woman who has been helped by PAGIR for many years now.
Several brainstorming sessions were held with PAGIR’s core team to conduct a SWOT (identifying the group’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) and draw up a roadmap for the organization.
Chief among the immediate needs are improving the quality and volume of products being created as per the Livelihood Program; enhancing the services being offered to members; improving value of services offered and information made available; and enhancing the management capacity of the core team to run the organization effectively. Funding remains a critical concern hampering the activities being planned; this too was taken up strategically.
To identify institutions that can support the activities of the PAGIR Network, the Charkha team explored a wide range of organizations, including local, national and international Civil Society Organizations. Discussions were also held with a cross section of people, including those closely involved with improving education facilities, women’s empowerment, watershed programs and local governance.
Efforts are now being made to garner resources for PAGIR’s advocacy and livelihood initiatives; and generate writings that reflect the true perspectives of the unheard in this unique, strategically located remote part of India.