“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” said the Mahatma, urging his nation to give unto other species the dignity they wish for themselves.
But if the events of Golla Halli, Karnataka, are anything to go by, we have a long way to go with how we treat even the children of this nation.
Every Monday, the Direct Care program children of Snehadhara Foundation eagerly look forward to kickstarting the week with their field trip. From markets to temples to parks and post offices, the children have had an incredible time interacting with and understanding how the world at large functions.
Sadly, this Monday, that has also meant being subjected to how discriminatory the world of grown-ups can be. Delighted to see trains and the buzz of a railway station first hand, the children arrived with our facilitators at the Golla Halli railway station. Like most commuters and visitors to the station, we queued up to buy our platform tickets which also function as a souvenir for the children about the fun time they’ve had at the field trip.
Except before they could be accorded the equality that any commuter would have been given, the children were most unfortunately witness to the harshest words and the meanest behaviour for no fault of theirs.
Just imagine being told as a child that you are not welcomed at a place because of who you are and what condition you have. Here, children on the autism spectrum, those with cerebral palsy and Down’s Syndrome were waiting patiently just to see the trains but the railway staff didn’t spare an opportunity to be vicious.
“You will destroy the sanctity of this place.”
“If you don’t take the children and go from here, people will come and beat you”
Was that a threat? Was that sheer malevolence? Or worse, was it outright lack of awareness? Who in their right mind would turn away children at a railway station?
We were ready to buy the platform tickets and show the children what it is to follow the rules of a place. The whole point of the field trips has been to help integrate them into the world of abled people and work towards an inclusive environment.
The fact that the children got to hear it repeatedly that they weren’t permitted here and that their presence would harm the “sanctity” of a place has long-term damaging effects among those innocent lives who simply want to be accepted.
After a long-drawn argument, the children did get to see the trains they came for but it has left us so shaken by how callous and insensitive we as a society remain, and how far we still need to go.
Inclusion is not conditional. You cannot choose whom to include and whom not to and then hypocritically talk about acceptance. Snehadhara Foundation has always believed in persevering for a world without boundaries and a people without bias.
Any step forward is a step closer to actualizing that vision. So even as we have lodged a formal complaint against the railway staff, what we wish for our children to experience more of is the overwhelming love and support they have received so far. These acts of judgment and unfair labelling only strengthen our resolve and belief that the world still has so much good to offer.