Antardrishti is a welfare program for the differently abled. Why we use the term “differently abled” is something that has confused me all the time. As a young child, being exposed to the handicap of my very own cousin, made me feel that there was something I had, which he didn’t. But we got along as friends, as two mates who would share childhood games, and all we had to do was to ensure that we were communicating with him in the manner he so understood. But childhood did not have a language, and we understood each other all through.
When I got introduced to the concept of Antardrishti, “understanding” wasn’t alien to me, but understanding the needs of the “differently abled” was new. I chose to explore why are we referring to “handicapped individuals” as “differently abled” and formally recognizing a social divide between us. Because the moment we use the term “different”, it highlights a gap, which the individual has perhaps already recognized, and he wouldn’t be too happy about it.
That is because if you and I aspire for let’s say a luxury home, we can by one means or another achieve that aspiration. However, if a deaf person aspires to hear music, that aspiration he or she cannot even hope to achieve, unless really a miracle happens.
So what do we do now? We have been constantly trying to provide inclusion for such individuals in society, by changing the terms we use – either we call them handicapped, or disadvantaged, or physically challenged or disabled, and now we choose to call them “differently abled”. Now the question is, are they actually “able” or are we just trying to convince ourselves that they are, by using different nomenclature? This is where Antardrishti came in.
The answer was not in changing nomenclature, but by providing the experience of natural and inclusive ability that a person with handicap could have. Over five years, that I have been associated with Antardrishti, I’ve had splendid opportunity to basically not be doing anything much more for Antardrishti, than just watching what miracles some splendid people are creating. Unless, you’ve seen it with your own eyes, it is hard to imagine that someone without eyes, would actually be threading the needle on a sewing machine and stitching a straight seam while holding the fabric and pushing the peddle with their bare foot. Incredible? It’s a reality, which will manifest itself as the truth, without the need of any marketing.
With benign grace, I had the opportunity to represent Antardrishti at a partners meet organized by NSDC today. People had come from all over the country to present their work while working for people with disabilities. And when the nomenclature got stretched, I got to learn during a presentation that they were using a term called VIP for visually impaired people, and that was really another one in my book today.
But, to continue the message that Antardrishti folks have for society, the team had provided me with little cookie boxes, that carry a message on the outside and delicious, scrumptious cookies inside. The message reads, “Don’t Just Donate. Help us earn with Dignity”. The cookies themselves are a testimony to what they do. Believe it or not, I have not tasted cookies better than the contents inside those boxes. And so, there were some 45 odd cookie boxes for every member of the audience, placed at the centre of every round table in the presentation room, so they could savour the taste of some “special cookies” baked by some splendid people.
We started off the presentation with a two minute video clip, before I talked about the project. In the 2 minutes I had, I could not have highlighted the journey of Antardrishti in 5 years, but I could definitely tell everyone, they must have the cookies, and when they have questions they can talk to me. The only message I had for them on inclusivity was, we need a social change, where people like you and me would even learn to accept an ordinary product such as cookies, to be made in ordinary ways by disadvantaged groups, and we should not need to distinguish the products from one another. Rather, we must consider ourselves blessed that we do not suffer from that handicap, and work towards using our faculties better.
The day went on, presentation after presentation. Then I started to notice something. The cookie boxes just weren’t moving on the table. I did not find anyone reaching out for the boxes, to open them and take a bite out of the cookies. Was there inertia in people? And to consider, I was sitting with a group of entrepreneurs, potential donors, philanthropists, and people seeking funding for disadvantaged groups. And yet, not one was reaching out to open a box of cookies made by the differently abled. Why?
Then, someone opened a box, ate a cookie, and passed a whisper to me – “These are Great!”
I smiled. Then a second box popped open. And a third. By the end of the day, people were reaching out to ask more about Antardrishti. Now this what the magic of Antardrishti is all about. It is creating a change in people’s mindset with a product of that quality and class, which ordinary people can use as everyday products, not necessarily made by a disadvantaged group, and yet be. Which means, if you haven’t yet got a box of Antardrishti cookies for yourself, do yourself a favour and get one. Watch the video, because a lot more is possible than just cookies.