|Initiative for Persons with Disability, Leh|
People’s Action Group for Inclusion and Rights (PAGIR) is a Leh-based group that has been advocating the rights and entitlements of disabled people of Leh for many years now. Within a few years of their formation, the volunteer group, comprising Ladakhi persons with disability and their families, have met with modest but significant successes: ensuring that an official building was made disabled-friendly; securing merit-based appointments of persons with disability to government jobs; and encouraging their social inclusion as productive members of society through their Livelihoods Program, Jungwa Shunkskyob.
Charkha’s contribution has enabled the strengthening of an Information Network that comprise local communities, governance institutions, civil society groups, donor agencies, corporate organizations, social activists and individual supporters, with the objective of facilitating the persons with disability to access their rights and entitlements on a sustainable basis.
Producing paper bags for extensive local sale forms the bulk of revenues for the group, but was not cost effective since old newspapers, the primary raw material, was not easily available in Leh and had to be purchased at a high cost. On a request from Charkha, the Cargo Division of Air India, India’s national carrier, approved the shipment of several consignments of old newspaper collected from friends in Delhi and dispatched to Leh. This one initiative has helped cover production costs substantially.
In September 2009, Charkha facilitated the organizing of an ‘Abilities Mela’ during the annual (and very popular) Ladakh Festival where, along with exhibiting and selling their products, the group shared information about their work with local people and domestic/international visitors alike. In preparation for this, the nascent group was provided Visiting Cards, Brochures and Fliers. Invitation Letters were disseminated widely and personal invites were given to all members of the Leh Autonomous Hill Development Council, the governing body based in Leh. Stickers of the PAGIR logo were pasted on all products to create brand equity for the products on sale.
Simultaneously, writings were generated about the group’s work and about their charismatic leader, Md Iqbal, himself completely disabled. These writings were disseminated widely in state and national mainstream publications and web portals.
Md Iqbal, President of PAGIR, was invited to Charkha’s 15th Founders Day celebration in Delhi on December 7, 2009, where he left the audience stunned with his courage and determination to improve the socio-economic status of this extremely marginalized group in the remote Himalayan region. The visit enabled the core team to garner support from many organizations keen to support their work.
In March 2010, Md Iqbal was recognized for his pioneering work and awarded the ‘Real Heroes of India’ Award by CNN-IBN. The citation reads –
“Mohd Iqbal (North) 42-year old and physically challenged, Iqbal started the People’s Action Group for Inclusion and Rights in Leh. He trains the disabled to make products from recycled paper and cloth and through that earn their livelihood. In the last eight years he has helped more than 30 physically challenged people live a better life.
PAGIR … works to explore and build on the potential of disabled people to bring them into the mainstream and include them in the development agendas of the day. Mohd Iqbal, President is himself severely disabled but does not let it hamper his spirit and dedication. Under his guidance, PAGIR through its network across Leh district provides a single window of information, opportunities for training , livelihoods and for marketing products. This work is supported by a team of enthusiastic volunteers bringing together people with disability and those who are physically able.
PAGIR is involved in advocacy of issues at the district and state level. Their demands include public offices and buildings be made disabled friendly, availability of Health services at the block level, dissemination of information on legal aid and credit and awareness of rights and entitlements.”Support is presently being sought to build the organizational structure and operating efficiencies of PAGIR and its advocacy and livelihoods initiatives. A Resource Centre is also envisaged where State- and National-level information can be made available on advocacy of the rights of the disabled; as well as opportunities for socio-economic empowerment in a manner that the often unschooled and mobility-restricted individuals can benefit through their own initiatives.
Charkha is also encouraging the generation of writings on the challenges and successes of those involved with advocacy of disability and other development concerns by encouraging and teaching persons with disability themselves to write, whether in English, Hindi, Urdu or Bhoti.