When policy falls short of deeds

Imkong Walling

The idea of social inclusion, in general, paints a picture of an inclusive world. It is a term that auto-generates identity read with equality— an image of humankind bereft of bias based on race, gender, class or caste. What a beautiful world. 

Missing from this perception however is a community of people, broadly classified as the differently-abled. Regarded as the world’s largest minority, the differently-abled community is estimated to make up 15 percent of the global population, a ratio that would roughly translate into, population-wise, the size of India or China.

In India, the 2011 Census tipped the figure at 26.8 million Persons with Disability (PWD). The same Census put the number in Nagaland at 29,631.  These are official figures but there could be many unaccounted for, existing largely obscured, often overlooked in the general inclusion discourse.

Contemporarily, progress has been made as far as sensitivity is concerned with world bodies and governments increasingly giving space to the needs of the differently-abled or PWDs, the policy documents spreading across the world and apparently to Nagaland as well. 

The awareness is reflected in the media discourse and non-governmental activism admittedly transforming a formerly PWDs-unfriendly social and physical landscape into a more inclusive and conducive environment. 

But then awareness alone cannot make the world better. It has to be complemented by proactive efforts combining policy and awareness to actually display solid results on the ground. 

While awareness has relatively grown, Nagaland still has much to accomplish in the disability-friendliness parameter. In the physical front, it includes the way roads, educational institutions, government establishments, residential structures, banks, hospitals and even the churches are built. 

With the exception of some hospitals, Nagaland lacks glaringly in this aspect. It is a place where the state government had to be woken up by the State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (SCPD) — a position instated by the government in the first place. The latest was in November 2023, when the state’s citadel of decision-making— Nagaland Civil Secretariat failed Accessibility Audit Inspection, followed by state-run guest houses. In January, a newly constructed VVIP guest at the Nagaland Police Complex failed another such inspection. 

The SCPD subsequently issued directives to ensure renovations meeting the Harmonised Guidelines and Standards for Universal Accessibility in India 2021 as mandated by the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act. It essentially implied making government infrastructure barrier-free and universally accessible. 

While the general tendency is to associate disability with physical challenges, the term includes a broad spectrum of disabilities as well, including the psychological. It is, again, an area where governmental care and support, if any, hardly provides a notion of assurance.  

Affecting transformation at the individual level or at the grassroots as a mantra to positive transformation is well justified. There are exceptions to the saying, however, when in the area of social inclusion, the government leadership, by virtue of its mandated role, is not only expected but required to set examples— deeds that trickle down to the community.

The writer is a Principal Correspondent at The Morung Express. Comments can be sent to imkongwalls@gmail.com