The physically challenged do not need sympathy. They want facilities to lead a self-reliant, dignified life
Fakirappa Harijan, a young man living with disabilities, is perhaps the living embodiment of the adage: ‘Failures are the pillars of success’. The 27-year-old Belagavi native has proved the power of perseverance by ensuring that experiences from his failures come to the aid of others.
By utilising government funds, Fakirappa has helped secure the lives and livelihoods of several people with disabilities.
Even though funds to access training courses and create jobs were available to the physically challenged at the gram panchayat level, they usually went unused. “The gram panchayats, municipal councils and corporations have to reserve 3% to 7% of their total budget for the welfare of the physically challenged,” Fakirappa explains. However, in the absence of awareness among potential beneficiaries, the funds were hard to come by.
Rajashri, a physically challenged woman, remembers how Fakir’s help transformed her life. “I did not know anything about government schemes. That was when he came in,” she says.
Fakirappa helped Raju, Rajashri’s husband who is also physically challenged, to set up a photography studio and a flour mill with the gram panchayat grants. He also arranged training sessions for the couple. “Now, we are earning about Rs 20,000 per month,” Rajashri says.
To help other people with disabilities access funds, he formed a taluk-level organisation of more than 150 people. They too had to face humiliation and apathy from officials in getting their legitimate rights.
Many important schemes, he has noticed, do not get the attention they deserve as they are not publicised. An important facet of his work is to make such information readily available to people with disabilities. He also encourages and aids them to apply to these schemes to avail benefits.
A major task, in the process of availing benefits, is to fight corruption. An example of this is the issue of Unique Disability ID. Fakirappa explains that the ID and certificates of disability need to be renewed from time to time. This puts persons with disabilities at the receiving end of both corruption and insensitivity. “The issue causes a lot of difficulty,” he says. He plans to meet with taluk and state government officials to advocate against such renewals.
In the past, Fakirappa has had to file RTI applications on funds available with gram panchayats. “According to the housing scheme, a gram panchayat should build at least two or three houses for people with disabilities,” he says. So far, 11 people have benefitted from his intervention which discovered funds allocated to housing for people with disabilities. Due to continued activism, officials have also now started responding positively to his efforts.
Explaining why he thinks it is important for people to access these resources, he says, “The physically challenged do not need sympathy. They want facilities to lead a self-reliant, dignified life.”
His tireless work has even garnered the appreciation of panchayat officials. “Because of his tireless effort, ramps have been constructed at gram panchayat offices,” says gram panchayat member Kallappa Chilaki of Khanapur.
As a son of a Dalit daily-wage earner, he was only two years old when wrong diagnosis and treatment left both his limbs paralysed. He had to endure several years in a system that did not make space for him.
Seeing all four of his sisters going to school, he too aspired to attend. His quest for learning prompted Fakirappa to read his sisters’ textbooks.
Noting his interest, his grandfather took it upon himself to educate him. He enrolled Fakirappa in a local school and would carry him on his shoulders every day to school and back.
This gave him the motivation to complete his degree.
In the meantime, Fakirappa came across Jagruti Samaj, a non-governmental organisation which is working with communities in Belagavi district on various issues.
“Here, I understood the legal side of things. Exposed to how other people also experienced oppression, I was motivated to help out in some way,” Fakirappa says.
Having grown up with disabilities, “Fakirappa knows how important it is to build capacity to live an independent life,” says Jagruti convener Sharada Dabade.
Fakirappa joined hands with the organisation to benefit hundreds of people in his taluk and district.
“I underwent double oppression as a Dalit and a person with disabilities. Through my life experiences, I realised there was a system that needed intervention, and I learned how to do it,” he says.