Arming the disabled with dignity

GIANT GUWAHATIAN

Guwahati has grown into a city without really meaning to be a city. From a centre of pilgrimage to a boisterous city, from tin-roofed small houses to tall skyscrapers — the city has grown seamlessly as the waters of the mighty Brahmaputra which flows by the side of the historic city. A recent survey (2006) by a popular Indian magazine – Outlook (Money) ranked Guwahati 16th among all the major and medium sized Indian cities.

But the individuals who lend a warmth and character to the city had never been celebrated. This is an attempt to honour Guwahatians who are either born in the city or have made the city their home and have been responsible for taking the name of the city to the world. The Thumb Print, a contemporary news magazine (www.thethumbprintmag.com) will honour the Giant Guwahatiansfrom different walks of life who have left their imprint on the city.


He does not walk. He uses the wheelchair. But leaps and flies with his giant efforts towards people with disabilities. Our maiden piece for this brand new column begins with singing praises, for Arman Ali. Monideepa Choudhury profiles him.

Visionary, Leader, Dynamic, Inspiring. They are words apt to describe our first choice in this column we have titled `Giant Guwahatian’. Not Giant in size. But giant at heart. Giant, in efforts. Magnanimous in achievements. This is specially for someone walking around in a wheelchair. We are talking about Arman Ali, a famed disability rights activist and the executive director of Shishu Sarothi, a pioneering not-for-profit organization in the disability sector based in Guwahati.

At the forefront of the disability rights movement in the Northeast, Ali advocates concerns of the disabled in the region at national and international forums, to ensure dignity for persons with disabilities. He works tirelessly at this. We beg your pardon therefore, if what we explain below reads more like his bio-data. What say of a main whose achievements run this long? We could not help it!

In November 2012, Ali began a campaign against the absence of basic amenities for differently abled people at the Guwahati railway station. This was only his latest effort in the direction, of some dignity that people with different abilities deserve. It was prompted by the harrowing time children from Shishu Sarothi had to go through before and during a round trip to New Delhi from Guwahati, to perform a play at the Jashne Bachpan Festival, organized by the National School of Drama at the national capital.

“We have since long been advocating for a barrier-free environment. Now the issue will get taken more aggressively,” Ali notes. He plans to send memorandums to the Railway Board and the Northeast Frontier Railways (NFR). After their response, he may approach the judiciary.

Ali, is a wheelchair-user too. So he not just understands that sickening feeling, but speaks from his heart when he rues: “It was sad and humiliating for the children. Their dignity shattered. Concessions, reservations are all worthless unless disabled people have the right to live and move with dignity.”

Rights of persons with disability are closest to his heart. Ali spares no pain to advocate, and bring them to reality. His stands out as a pioneering voice in asking for equal opportunity employment in the Northeast of India.

He conceived and initiated the Disability Employment Initiative project of Shishu Sarothi, a project credited with conducting the first ever job fair in the private sector for persons with disabilities in the Northeast in 2010. And we are talking about this, in a country where the attitude towards people with some form of disability spans insensitivity to ruthlessness. Dignity is too distant a word. Dignity that the disabled deserve and rightfully so.

Ever remembered that pity feeling that swarmed you when you saw a wheelchair user? Or that irritable ignore you gave someone without a limb, begging for a living? Did it ever occur that they were capable of earning as much as any other techie in a software firm?

Ali’s actions towards the cause he is committed to speak louder than mere phrases of advocacy though. He was pivotal in enhancing the number of employees with disabilities at Infosys BPO, Bangalore by 75 per cent during the first six months’ of his serving as Human Resource Specialist of Equal Opportunity Initiative between 2007-2009.

Considering Infosys is an IT bellwether, such an effort is a trendsetter. He recruited nearly 100 people with disabilities during the period and provided initiatives to integrate employees into mainstream workforce.

No wonder his company rewarded him for this effort, twice over. The two awards he won successively were Infosys Excellence Award for Inclusivity and Diversity 2007 and the Ramp Award for Exit Counselling for the year 2008. For a country on an economic growth path keenly watched by the world, what information technology majors do matters. And especially when it comes to steps such as these, towards bettering human dignity.

He filed and initiated the filing of many public interest litigations on disability issues as a project coordinator at the Disability Law Unit – North East, Shishu Sarothi.

Commitment drives Arman Ali. His commitment is spirited in expression and infectious, which is why he goes after what he sets out to do. His team at Shishu Sarothi swears by his tenacity of purpose.

In March 2012, Ali was awarded the IBN7 Super Idol for his ‘extraordinary work in the field of disability’. And the award list goes on…

We are not talking of a veteran in the field, but a 32-year-old activist who is a multi-tasker. An executive director, member of commitees, chairperson of other committees, advisor and director at national organisations working towards betterment of people with disabilities…his calendar must be full for the coming year, we bet.

Not without reason. Ali, who holds a Bachelors’ in Information Technology (IT) from the Manipal Academy of Higher Education. He began his career as Manager of Hotel Crown, Guwahati in 1995. In the 2001 he joined River’s West Productions Inc, USA, New Delhi as Business Manager of a project that was featured on BBC London Radio for its uniqueness. He later joined the Disability Law Unit – Northeast as Project Coordinator and created a network of NGOs, disabled people organisations and lawyers across eight States of Northeast India. He sourced funds from international agencies for the effort. And it worked.

Do you not think that we as people from Northeast India ought to feel happy Ali is from among us? It’s time to celebrate people like him who do not tire at bringing some semblance of equality for those among us who are made physically differently by providence or otherwise

A TESTIMONIAL:

Javed Abidi, Global Chair of Disabled People International, convener of Disabled Rights group and honorary Executive Director of National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled (NCPEDP):

“Northeast India has always been neglected even in the disability space. Arman Ali is an academically well qualified individual. He could have easily moved out of Guwahati, Assam and pursued a good ‘career’ in the worldly sense. He chose to stay back and devote his time for the betterment of fellow disabled people and that’s commendable.”

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