An Inclusion Utsav
Written for India Inclusion Summit by Author, Journalist and Gandhian, Rajni Bakshi.
The India Inclusion Summit, IIS, is actually a festival, an utsav. It may have started out differently seven years ago but what I experienced on 17th and 18th November, 2018 was more akin to a love-fest, a camaraderie-fest than a ‘summit’ that usually connotes analysis and negotiations.
Undoubtedly plenty of the hard-nosed stuff is happening in this movement for inclusion of the differently abled. Without that corporate giants like SAP, HP, Allegis would not be employing more and more people who would otherwise be excluded from the work place because they have special needs.
I take it as a signal of the level of confidence of the work that is happening year-round that the annual IIS event does not need to do stock taking of the nitty-gritty details of how mission inclusion is proceeding. Instead it was a musical, poetic inspirational event at which a wide range of speakers shared the how, why, what of overcoming diverse forms of disability.
The Friends Raising Evening on 17th evening created the atmosphere for the IIS to unfold as a love fest. Young Zoyeb was in the same small group as I was at the Friends Raising evening. So when I saw him go up on stage, compering the first set of talks of the morning on 18th – I was cheering a friend for I had at least a glimpse of both his struggle and his dreams.
To say that the IIS assembled a remarkable range of speakers is an understatement. I hope that all the talks will be uploaded and made accessible to people across the world – ideally with close captions in multiple languages.
Is it worth it? Does it really add up? I heard murmurs of this self-introspective question from some of those who are deeply involved in bringing together this massive, expensive event. To be asking the question is already proof of a dynamic energy that will find answers to the details. By way of broad re-affirmation it might help to recall that human societies do have a long, perhaps before recorded time, tradition of knowing the value of annual gatherings. It is the festive one’s that have invariably been repeated over centuries.
In a conversation between sessions one young father, holding his severely disabled son in his arms, spoke about the staggering logistical challenges that parents face in getting adequate time for the care of their child and also keeping up with demanding jobs. If this is the struggle of a middle-class couple who are both professionals, how much harder it must be for working class parents in the same position.
A love-fest like IIS has the intrinsic value of bringing joy to people at different levels of this challenge. So it requires no analysis, no metrics for deciding the ‘worth’ – any more than the fragrance of a flower does.
At the same time the restless introspection of the organizing team is a precious character strength – or perhaps even a north star that will point the way to future creativity and wider reach rather than ‘new’ directions. And new comers like me will continue to feel honoured and privileged to become part of the journey.