Two days back I received a friend request on one of the social media sites from a young man. The name was very familiar but the face I was struggling to identify. Of course I couldn’t recognize this 20 something years old man because the last I had seen him was when he was about five years old! When I was working with a centre for children with special needs (in a foreign country), he was in my class. Needless to say, I was over the moon to be able reconnect with him.  He told me that he had finished his high school and was now enrolled for his bachelors’ degree in a university.

I recently have relocated to India. During the time I was away from home, I have worked with various international curriculum and have come across many good practices that make inclusion possible. Learning about how life had turned out for one of my ex-student was heartwarming and it also got me thinking about inclusion in India.

Who can forget the epic of Mahabharata, which portrays the visually challenged Dhritrashtra as the king of all India! Indulge me here, the point I am trying to make is not how and under what circumstances did Dhritrashtra became a king, but the fact that he was accepted by all as the king.  This anecdote from Mahabharata tells me that individuals with special needs historically were not institutionalized but enjoyed coexistence.

Many studies have been carried out and a lot has been written in terms of challenges faced in making inclusion robust in India; lack of trained staff, poverty, lack of binding national laws are some of the challenges identified by the numerous studies carried out in this area.

In 1966 Kothari Commission was the first statutory body that highlighted the issue of special education in India and also strongly recommended inclusive model of education. Since than many government initiatives and legislations and laws have been implemented and yet today our country is fumbling with inclusion!

Though historically people with special needs enjoyed coexistence, somewhere down the line we shifted to a charity model. In my personal opinion this charity approach is now so embedded in us that even today with all the initiatives and laws, we still haven’t been able to get a grip over inclusion. We feel sorry for the individuals with special needs; we donate money, food and clothes to NGOs and government schools and give a pat on our backs for contributing to a good cause!

As mentioned above, I have worked in the field of early education and special education for many years. I can promise you one thing, individuals with special needs don’t want our pity, they don’t want us to donate special treats and clothes to them. What they want is for us to believe in them, to treat them as equals and most of all they want their fundamental right to participate and contribute in the society.  

A friend whose son has special needs, recently cleared a competitive exam and was interviewed by the local news channel. This tells me that in India there are organizations and people working relentlessly towards making inclusion regular. For them to succeed, we as a society need to challenge our perception. We need to move away from the charity model and become a society that cherishes diversity and upholds equality.

There is a lot that needs to be done for inclusion to become a norm in our society. Yes, we need to invest more in training teachers and our infrastructure certainly is not most special needs friendly, we need to ensure that we succeed in eradicating poverty, we need to ensure that our laws are binding in relation to inclusion, we need to reflect on the effectiveness of the current dual government administration of special education services but all this can happen if we start to value equality and start to see individuals with special needs as an inseparable part of our society.

I think most of us believe in inclusion and equal opportunity for all. At the same time, most of us also wait for someone else (namely government) to ensure that we become an all-inclusive society. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change, you wish to see.” Therefore, let us embrace inclusion and make it so embedded in our society that the term inclusion becomes obsolete.

INCLUSION IS A RIGHT!

Preschool Education Consultancy 

Ref. Special Education Today in India; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265599013/download

Image credit – kisspng