Rising from her not-so-pleasant experiences in India post her accident, Dr. Sruti Mohapatra, Chief Executive Officer of Swabhiman, the organization behind the major policy changes in Odisha and India for persons with disability, decided to ensure pleasurable and satisfying moments for children with disabilities and to the students from mainstream schools alike through Camp Anjali. She talks about the journey that Anjali, a five-day-camp cum International children’s festival in Odisha and Swabhiman have been.
How has Swabhiman evolved over the years, from the idea you began with?
Dr. Sruti: I joined the disability movement not from the local level but I started with the international involvement. After my accident, I volunteered at various events with Red Cross Bhubaneswar. Then I joined DPI through which I got travel around the world, empowering and enriching myself. But when I returned I was sad because with persons with disability were not visible, they were nowhere.
Secondly, the treatment I was receiving from people post my accident. I was a topper in study, debate everything, then suddenly only topic people could talk with me was can you feel the touch, can you lift your leg. Societal rejection one side and opportunities all around the world on the other, I decided to do something. I was educated, my parents supported me, I belonged to a middle class family and wondered what about the ones who could not. So toured across Odisha and realized the horrific state of persons with disability. So, Swabhiman and Anjali were made.
How does Swabhiman stands out from other organisations?
Swabhiman is the first cross-disability organization while Anjali is a platform to show the talents and potential these children hold within to the society. Nobody here was a taker for a thing like this camp, I met the dept. of culture, which is not related. I met Mr. Balakrishnan. He said, I will support you will you give me a world class festival? I said support me and one day I’ll give you such a festival. He called different people, UNICEF. He is one of the best government officials I’ve met. I’m so excited that now that we have a world class festival he is coming.
Organisations were scattered and focused on certain disabilities. Organisation were then only discussing about small projects and not the bigger things like roads, buses, accessible railways and education. Thinking about these issues, my rights, employments Swabhiman began to fight and do advocacy for the rights. And yes today I can say that we have come a long way.
Key roles Swabhiman has played in the disability movement in India?
Swabhiman has played a major role in all the policy changes that have happened, be it on state or national level. We have played a key role in the passage of 1995 Act for Persons with Disability, RCI Act, the National Trust act, General elections accessibility and the new bill, the 2011 census. I’ve been a part of all the core committees.In the state Odisha, we played an important role in the formation of office of the Disability Commissioner, portfolio to a minister with disability, carving of the new department, the Dept. of Social security and the empowerment of persons with disability. And Anjali is the only inclusive festival in the worlds.
Mainstream School participation from outside Odisha has been kept low in Anjali camp. Why?
One big constraint for Swabhiman is raising funds. We are not supported by the govt. We have to start from asking for funds, and since we have been able to reach out to the remotest corner of Odisha and beyond the state, we are able to get some, with the help of family and friends. And everything is free, from travel to food, prizes and stay. Because of goodwill we are able to get funds, so it becomes difficult to reach out to people.
Psychology of the some of the parents of children with disability is disturbing. What do you think?
We have the best laws in our country, but until we change the mindset of the society, until the parents are not embarrassed of their children, we cannot achieve much. If Rashmi, a dancer is able to get a national award, it is only because of their parents’ support. Also, this mentality of parents that because their child is blind he should do singing, because their child is hearing impaired he should do art must change. They have to explore their talent and spend time with them.
How is Anjali going to execute the science models displayed by the students?
We will be taking the documents, papers, pictures of the models which have come here to give them to IIT Bhubaneswar, Dharmendra Pradhan and request him to give to the dept. of Science and Prime Minister and see how these things can be fabricated and made sustainable and implementable.
What more do you have on your mind for Anjali?
I’m now thinking of making the festival self sustaining; else it becomes very difficult to begin from scratch collecting funds. I’ve activities on my mind to do round a year and reach even to villages. And how do we take Anjali and reproduce Anjali at different levels, at different districts, different states. Education should be joyful; freebies don’t attract a child, an interesting teacher and an environment does. Acceptance of Anjali as a model of education is what I want., implemented across the country.
What keeps you going?
The smiles! A little girl told me once that you are bringing smiles on everybody’s face so I wanted to bring a smile on your face. One year, an mentally challenged Odissi dancer little girl came to me on stage when I was sitting with the Governor and tears rolled down her eyes that her mother is taking her away and she doesn’t want to go. She asked me to come and tell her that not to take her away. This is unconditional love. Does one need a Padmashri after this? I’ve got my every award, my Bharat Ratna, and Nobel Award.