Being from the Northeast part of India, the notion of “social exclusion” is nothing new to me, as I had written in one of my very first blogs. Blame it on the geography, culture, food habits, religion or physical appearance of the very diverse Northeastern states – most of us feel excluded in many ways from the rest of the country. Ironically, for the AIF Clinton Fellowship program, I was given the opportunity to work on a “social inclusion” project with Samarth Charitable Trust in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, under their Chhattisgarh Social Inclusion Program, which work for Persons with Disabilities (PwDs). So I was given the opportunity to work on a topic that I had been struggling to deal with myself for years.
There will be no denying in the fact that I have faced some issues, like being called “Chinky” or “Nepali” or being stared by everyone in any public places because I look different. But the truth is, I never wanted to be different in my own country. My initial months in Chhattisgarh weren’t easy when I constantly had to explain to everyone where I was from and almost everything about Nagaland and being a Northeast Indian. But over the months that followed, being with my host organization and working with PwDs, it has really impacted my perspective of how I view the notions of exclusion and inclusion now at the conclusion of the program.
While closely working with PwDs, it has made me question my prior understanding of “exclusion and inclusion.” I have been working with one of the most stigmatized and vulnerable communities who have been for decades excluded from society. One of the major learnings on this project for me is that exclusion happens due to lack of knowledge of the issue from the observer or the greater majority, but also due to lack of opportunity to present their issues from those struggling or the minority. So it goes both ways and it’s not just one party at fault for all the exclusion.
After two or three months in my host organization, the relation dynamics completely changed, mostly because I was given the opportunity to share the information about myself to the host organization and community. From bonding during lunch through endless topics from work to personal issues to celebrating our birthdays and also birthdays of the children or parents of my colleagues, to sharing any joyous or sad occasion, the office became my home away from home. Little did I know that I was slowly and gradually integrating with the opportunity made available to me. With my supervisor guidance, I started not only working towards my professional but also my personal growth. An important personal learning was being a Sakaaraatmak or positive mindset which changed my perspective of life and my relationship with my surroundings. My misconception about the capabilities of PwDs also quickly changed after multiple interactions with them.
The AIF Clinton Fellowship has given me a different perspective on “exclusion and inclusion” and the importance of understanding it from both ends. It has helped me in finding a greater purpose of bridging the gap between the Northeastern states and the rest of the country. It helps me to under that it is my responsibility to represent the people I meet so far in my life from different states to the people back home and vice versa. By doing so, I might contribute my part in breaking the stereotypes attached on both ends and contribute to building an inclusive nation and a better place for its entire people. It also helped me to find my self-identity and embrace it.