15th August 1947 - for the 360 million newly free Indians, the word 'independence' meant more than merely a state of autonomy. It meant, for the community at large, the freedom to pursue your interests, hone your skills and build a life around it.
One such community is that of the Intellectually Disabled people of India. In ancient times, any kind of significant impairment in cognitive and adaptive abilities in a person was regarded as a result of sinful past lives and therefore, an object of ridicule and something to be ashamed of. Traces of such thinking, although to a significantly lesser degree, still exist in many rural areas of the country.
In metropolitan areas, the situation for Intellectually Disabled is better but not satisfactory. The onset of the Industrial Revolution brought in a great deal of wealth and productivity to the civilization but at a great cost. Concentration of wealth and resources in cities forced huge populations of villages to migrate in search of labor. Those with vocational ability were considered to be an asset to the family while those with disabilities of any kind were marginalized.
In the years after independence, many positive strides were taken by the government as well as many newly formed NGOs across the country. Special schools for the Intellectually Disabled were established in the 1950s, which was the first time an organized effort was made towards the cause. Since then, hard-fought legislation like the 'Persons with Disabilities Act 1995' (for Equal opportunities, Protection of Rights, and Full Participation), National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disability Act, 1999 and the most recent Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. (Amendment to the bill passed in 2014) have paved a way for a better future.
On a social level, we have made some meaningful progress even though there is still a long way to go. It has been our experience after 17 successful years of Advitya that once you create a public platform to campaign the cause of the Intellectually Disabled, people take active interest in knowing more about the issue and often goes great lengths to be of some help.
It is also imperative to understand the struggles of the people most directly affected by the plight of the Intellectually Disabled - the parents of the Intellectually Disabled. An open dialogue in the media other public platforms will be of tremendous help to these parents. Once they know that there are other parents coping with similar issues, a lot of ignorance and hush hush surrounding the issue will fade away. Also, the depiction of People with Intellectual Disabilities in movies, TV and other art forms is rarely multi-dimensional. And because art reflects life, this kind of simple-minded depiction points towards the greater reality of the society: we simply do not know enough about the life and problems of a person with such disabilities. We can't keep shrugging the responsibility to educate the masses on someone else.