Author Archives: Parvinder Singh

Parvinder Singh

About Parvinder Singh

Parvinder Singh is currently with CBM in India as its Manager Corporate Communications and Partnership. He focuses on external communication to build CBM’s brand profile and developing partnerships with media, industry association, institution and government to influence them with CBM’s theory of change on disability and development. Parvinder has over 16 years of professional experience as a journalist with leading news agencies and as a communication and campaigner with ActionAid, Avaaz.org, Oxfam, Christian Aid, SOS Children’s Village and Plan International. He has a research degree in economic history from JNU and post graduation from IMT, Ghaziabad. His writings have been published in international news media and peer-reviewed journals. Parvinder lives in New Delhi with his two children and wife.

The harvest of hope

There are very few things more inspiring and riveting than witnessing individuals strive for dignity, voice, and most importantly,  changing the lives of their community. It becomes even more remarkable, when this change is driven by a social group which has been on the margins.

In my decade-and-half long experience of capturing and telling stories of change, seeing the power of land-based livelihood in creating ripples of change in the entire community have been some of the most fascinating ones.

In India, agriculture continues to be the mainstay of livelihood, food security, and dignity. Though the focus of growth for the national economy and its workforce has been shifting to cities and urban areas, some of the most marginalised sections of society continue to depend on farming for survival. As non-disabled boys, men and even young women migrate for work and opportunities, those left behind – persons with disabilities, single women and elderly – struggle to find ways to tide over poverty.

In the week of 20th to 24th February, CBM India colleagues will be in Vienna at Zero Project Conference and awards to tell this exceptional story of inclusion and empowerment. The blurbs of the story have already gripped attention from online followers, including a popular Bollywood actress.

Pramod is a person with disability who has been supported with training and a grinding machine. He turns wheat into flour before packaging the flour for sale as an organic brand.

Pramod is a person with a disability who has been supported with training and a grinding machine. He turns wheat into flour before packaging it for sale as an organic brand.

I have been following the project for close to eight months now. To be honest it feels much longer than that. Through this blog, I want to share with you some powerful moments that fill my mind when I think about the story and how it has been evolving.

The summer sunlight in the northern India during the months of May and June is so harsh that you could get a heatstroke within a couple of hours. The heatwave conditions, as the weather reports call them, are marked by a warm gust of winds that feel like a coal fired furnace breathing on your face.

It was during this time of the year that I first met a dozen persons with disabilities and their families who are part of an ambitious but equally intuitive project that brings together persons with disabilities and non-disabled in groups to train them on organic farming techniques, supports them in accessing loans, develops accessible tools, supports with assets like shops, grinding machines and packaging of produce for local markets.

Puneeta is confident with her eyes set on changing her life and working to inspire other people with disabilities in her village. She is a part of CBM supported disability inclusive organic farming project

Puneeta is confident with her eyes set on changing her life and working to inspire other people with disabilities in her village. She is a part of CBM supported disability inclusive organic farming project.

I met Puneeta, a shy but confident young woman with a disability, to get a sense of what is the most significant she has been through or expects to have through the project. She not only cited a bank balance, a steady income and respect within the family but also added that she is seen as a person with knowledge about a process that everyone else wants to know as it is changing her life. The power shift from being seen as a dependent to someone who has a voice and potentially life changing technical knowledge is significant. For an inclusive society, the stereotypes need to be challenged, Puneeta knows this will happen with her and other persons with disabilities becoming a central part of the economic empowerment process the project has created. Please read her story by clicking here.

The disability inclusive organic project has also challenged gender stereotypes while developing entrepreneurial skills and strengthening livelihood generation capacity of women with disabilities. As I felt while talking to Maya on two occasions, both separated by six months.

She said: “I am the man of the house.”

Maya’s statement that needs to be seen in the context of her being a single mother with a disability.

Her confidence stems from her ability to grow vegetables and season crops through organic methods, that has reduced the cost of expensive fertilisers, and a small shop through which she sells spices and oil extracted from mustard seeds which grow in abundance.

To Maya, the most significant change that has come from being a part of the project is her emergence as a leader in the community. She is the head of the disabled people’s organisation and president of the farmer interest group formed under the project.

Maya with her daughter inside her new shop. She has recently got this much awaited asset to sell organic produce that she packages.

Maya with her daughter inside her new shop. She has recently got this much awaited asset to sell organic produce that she packages.

The second time that I met Maya, it was an early onset of winter with lush green background characteristic of the region. She had just opened a new shop with support from a community loan. This was a dream come true for her. The first time I had met her; a small table outside her house was her makeshift shop. Please read her story by clicking here.  

The distinguishing aspects of disability inclusive organic farming include: low-cost inputs and high returns, involvement of people with disabilities as asset and knowledge holders of new techniques, creating inclusive farmers groups increasing capacity to take loans and support of government schemes and marketability of the organic produce like vegetables, spices, honey and edible oils. The ownership of this business and decision-making is with the farmers.

Innovation is mostly about localisation and solving problems through the perspective of the user. This to me has been a big part of the project’s success and popularity, and needless to add its sustainability.

Suresh highlights this aspect. He appears much older than his age but his high energy levels soon dispel the impression of old age, as he juggles several small sized wooden boxes that are colored in green paint, creating a contrast with the lush green climbers on the bare walls behind him.

The boxes are models of composting pits used for creating manure for growing vegetables and crops. This becomes clear as he starts explaining each of them through a spirited presentation based on touch and voice. Suresh, 52, is a person with blindness and works as a master trainer with the CBM supported disability inclusive organic farming project. Please read his story by clicking here.

Suresh with his wooden models customized as training material for explaining the process for making composting pits.

Suresh with his wooden models customized as training material for explaining the process for making composting pits.

 

India to get new act for persons with disabilities

In a promising win for millions of persons with disabilities in India, a bill that had been pending for two years in Parliament was passed on the very last day of business for the Winter Session in the Lok Sabha on 16th December.

The bill paves the way for a new act for the rights of persons with disabilities and will replace the two-decade-old the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.

The news brought relief and ushered a wave of enthusiasm among disability organisations and activists who had been holding peaceful vigils over the past month or so to remind the parliamentarians that the bill should not get delayed for the next session. The Winter Session had witnessed stormy scenes resulting from divided opinions over the much discussed demonetisation move by the government.

A rare unity

It was heartening to see that members, cutting across party lines, decided to unite ensure that the much awaited bill is passed. The concensus also highlights the positive changes that have taken place since the Disability Act 2015 came into force with both the policymakers and political leadership in the country showing stronger concern for rights and participation of persons with disabilities.

In fact, the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, passed the bill within two hours after a short debate. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also present in the house during this period. Earlier on Wednesday, the Rajya Sabha too had witnessed similar bonhomie for passage of The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014.

A new phase of empowerment

The bill ushers in a more progressive policy and legal framework for the government, organisations and persons with disabilities to achieve inclusion and equal rights for persons with disabilities.

“The New Act will bring our law in line with the United National Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), to which India is a signatory. This will fulfill the obligations on the part of India in terms of UNCRD. Further, the new law will not only enhance the Rights and Entitlements of Divyangjan but also provide an effective mechanism for ensuring their empowerment and true inclusion into the Society in a satisfactory manner.” says a text from the Prime Minister’s official website.

Among the salient features of the bill is disability being defined as an evolving and dynamic concept and the types of disabilities being increased from seven to 21. It is important to underline that while some of the specific reservations and affirmative actions have been earmarked for persons with disabilities based on degree of disability defined in the law, the bill takes a much wider view of disability and the dynamic social group that it constitutes.

Though the 2011 national census identified 2.6 percent of India population constituting of people with disabilities, there has been a persistent demand for making a higher allocation of resources and reservation in jobs/education for persons with disabilities. Though the bill provides for reservation in vacancies in government establishments from the existing 3% to 4%, this is short of 5% that disabled peoples’ organisations were demanding.

Accessibility has emerged as a key policy and public campaign agenda for the government of India with its flagship Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan or Accessible India Campaign. The bill calls for strengthening the campaign and institutionalises this through a focus on accessibility in public buildings (both Government and private) in a prescribed time frame.

A provision that has generated mixed reactions is related to penal action mandated for offenses committed against persons with disabilities. The disabled peoples’ organisations feel that the wording of the statement related to it leaves a lot to subjective interpretation as it says ‘discrimination against a disabled person (would not be punishable) if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.

The bill specifically mentions women and girls with disabilities and acknowledges that ‘special measures’ should be undertaken to protect the rights of women and children with disabilities.

The women’s rights groups, however, feel disappointed with the lack of specifics, as they had been asking for the incorporation of a separate subsection that would address the needs of women with disabilities following the guidelines set out by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Read a summary of key provisions of The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014, on Prime Minister Modi’s web portal.

Embracing leadership of persons with disabilities

Disability-inclusive DRR Network (DiDRRN), including CBM, at the culmination of AMCDRR 2016.

The team from Disability-inclusive DRR Network (DiDRRN), including CBM, at the culmination of AMCDRR 2016.

As the globe observed World Tsunami Awareness Day on 5th November to highlight a collective future and the need for acting together on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction 2016 (AMCDRR 2016) ended with a strong message and commitment to leave no one behind through an ‘all of society approach’.

The record-breaking air pollution in New Delhi which is the venue for the conference and smog persisted with many people seen wearing a mask. But the air within the imposing plenary hall of Vigyan Bhawan  was brimming with expectation, which gave way to optimism for the stakeholder groups who saw their hard work paying off with the drafting committee including framework and implementation level suggestions.

All of society approach   

The three-day conference that was preceded by pre-events, saw an open and consultative deliberations which impacted the commitments in the outcome documents:  Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) 2016 New Delhi Declaration – 2016 and Asia Regional Plan for Implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.

Recognising the need to bring all stakeholders together the AMCDRR process involved various stakeholder groups for developing action statements that have been appended with the Asia Regional Plan 2015-2030.

Over 4,000 participants from 41 countries took part in the conference in sessions that were open to all participants, allowing cross-sectoral discussions which found its way into different stakeholder action statements.

The summary sessions and speakers echoed the statement made by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to embrace all of society.

Championing disability inclusion

The Disability Stakeholder Group had some anxious moments as the coalition of organisation recalled how the lack of specific mention to leadership and inclusion of persons with disabilities might lead to a setback in bringing inclusion to the centre stage.

The second day of the conference saw a technical session organised by the stakeholder group. As the session progressed, the room started filling up. The small but inspired contingent of disability organisations found renewed energy as the proceeding drew ministerial representatives and national institutions.

The ministerial representatives from Bangladesh emerged as the champions along with civil society participants from the country, when they pushed for the key priorities and commitments to be echoed in the New Delhi Declaration and the Asian Regional Plan 2015-2030. The tenacious wording and an assimilative approach by the drafting committee found its way into the outcome documents.

The SFDRR Asian Regional Plan 2015-2030 text mentions disability at six places in specific, apart from figuring in the New Delhi Declaration.

But the following mention in the text is particularly important:

“Adopting an inclusive approach – via multi-sector/stakeholder DRR platforms, both at national and local levels – is particularly important. It should embrace the leadership of persons with disability, women, children and youth and the significant contribution of the business sector.”

Day 1 of AMCDRR 2016

Pre-event hosted by Disability Stakeholder Group discussing action statement ahead of AMCDRR 2016.

Pre-event hosted by Disability Stakeholder Group discussing action statement ahead of AMCDRR 2016.

India’s national capital, New Delhi, hosting the Asian Ministerial Conference 2016 has been under a thick layer of fog caused by a sudden spike in air pollution for the past week and this hasn’t gone unmentioned during the sessions that took place on the opening day, 3rd November 2016, highlighting how real the risk of vulnerability is.

This smog is expected to clear up over the next two days. However, stakeholder groups and organisations are looking for commitments that go beyond rhetoric and have timebound commitments in ‘Asian Regional Plan for Implementation of the Sendai Framework’.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inaugural address was punctuated by statements highlighting one basic fact that the world we live in strongly connected and the Asian Region, in particular, has to plan and act through a common framework when it comes to Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).

Time to walk the talk

Mr. Modi was emphatic in highlighting the significance of the ongoing AMCDRR saying it is special because it is the 1st after the adoption of Sendai Framework.

“2015 was a momentous year! Apart from Sendai Framework, the international community adopted two major frameworks to shape future of humanity; they were the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change,” he added while highlighting that all development sectors must imbibe the principles of DRR.

Expectation for a disability inclusive regional plan

As the inauguration was underway, a small but vocal representation from Disability Stakeholder Group heard every word being spoken with an air expectation to see if the disability agenda has made it through the text of speeches being given.

The group had only the day before hosted a pre-event and was huddled together till late evening in the Ashoka Hotel to fine tune commitments and indicators for inclusion in action plan.

Though disability was not specifically mentioned, inclusion was underlined by Indian Prime Minister who called for wholeheartedly embracing the spirit of Sendai which calls for an all-of-society approach to disaster risk management.

Co-operation and data-driven DRR

Need for disaggregated data at the national and regional levels is one of the prominent themes or cross-cutting focus that has emerged from the half a dozen stakeholder consultations and technical sessions held on the first day of the conference.

Disability-focused terminologies figured in several presentations, including the need for accessible information, communication, and service for DRR planning processes and response infrastructure.

The speakers and questions from the participants highlight the concern over how effective DRR plans would be in absence of data that is critical for risk mapping without which plans for resilience would fail to uphold the principle of leave no one behind.

The Disability Stakeholder Group will be holding a technical session to share and deliberate on the action statement which has been pitched to the drafting committee.