This is the first of the series of monthly interviews that we will carry on this website . It is about those who don't look at themselves as a person with disability and about those who are an inspiration to others.It is also about those who do not look at a disabled person with a magnifying glass but look at their abilities.
I first met him at the CavinKare Ability Awards function. There were a lot of people around him; his team members were giving out brochures and visiting cards. As I inched closer, he was completing some formalities. He had to sign and anybody around him would have expected his assistant to do it on his behalf. But no, he held the pen by his teeth and signed beautifully in Urdu like an inscription on Mughal architecture.
Mr. Mohamed Iqbal, Founder of Peoples Action Group for Inclusion and Rights (PAGIR) in conversation with Ms Sowmya Simhan,Sukriti
Iqbalji, tell us about PAGIR
PAGIR was started in 2005 in Leh, Ladakh to work for the inclusion and rights of persons with disability. We are working with the Government to bring out all the disabled people in Ladakh into the mainstream life and we have succeeded to some extent. Plastics are banned in Ladakh. The tailors in our area were burning the waste materials which were polluting the area. So we initiated a program of making paper bags and craft items from the waste materials
We have engaged 40 persons with disability in this program. About 8 of them come to our centre at Leh and the rest work from their homes in making these items.
(Travel Another India and PAGIR are partnering towards inclusive tourism)
How did the Himalaya on Wheels happen?
Persons with disability should have equal participation in travel and tourism as well. Last year, we and Travel Another India, a social enterprise working on responsible tourism and accessible tourism, initiated the Himalaya on Wheels program. Ms. Shivani Gupta of Accessibility did the access audit of various monasteries and the hotels. The local hospitality industry was already considering making their buildings accessible. We gave them further ideas about how it had to be done.Ladakh is a beautiful and serene place and we wanted it to be accessible to all. Some of the monasteries-Shey monastery, Alchi monastery and Shanti Stupa already had a ramp. The problem for a disabled tourist was with the hotel. In Uley Tokpo, we worked with Baradh resort to ensure its accessibility. A disabled tourist can now see the beautiful sunrise at Lake Pangong and visit Tibetan monasteries at Choglamsar.The proceeds from the Himalaya on Wheels tour is shared between Pagir and Travel Another India. Last year we had some 2-3 tourists and this year we are expecting 4-5 tourists and we hope that this number would increase.
How is the life of a person with disability different in Leh when compared to a person with disability in other parts of India?
Even today there is great stigma attached to disability in Leh. Families ignore and hide disabled member in their house. They are not sent to school, are not allowed to participate in the local festivities and they are considered a bad omen. Even when we go to the villages to bring out the people, we are driven away. It is with great difficulty that we have actually been able to engage 40 people in waste recycling project and make them earn a living.
Tell us about yourself
I was born to poor parents in a village,15 kms from Leh and was never allowed to go out because of my disability. I had a home tutor who taught me Urdu and Arabic. Later after my parents passed away, the family system broke and I became very lonely. It was then I started volunteering at Nangyan Institute for persons with disability. In 2005,I started PAGIR.
What is the kind of help that PAGIR needs?
We need volunteers to help in designing new products from waste materials. We have only one full time staff and rest of the work is managed by volunteers. We also need people who can train more disabled persons on making these products. We make more than 23 products like purse, key chains, head bands etc but we need to add products. Proceeds help in rehabilitating more number of people.
PAGIR can be contacted at
PAGIR office C/o SECMOL oOffice Housing Colony,
P.O.Box No 04
Pin no 194101.
Travel Another India can be contacted at 9900193873