I would like to believe that people staring at my daughter or talking about her in hushed tones, have never had any opportunity to be with somebody who had Down’s syndrome whereas a lot of people in countries like US or UK have had the chance to be in the same classroom with other special needs children. They’ve had children coming from single parent homes, gay households, and other culturally diverse backgrounds, which means when these children see somebody different, they are more accepting of them and would not put them into the category of good or bad. We on the other hand are more on the one side of the fence where we not only judge people based on their race, caste, ethnicity, region, religion, handicap, looks and other things that are beyond ones control, but we also make sure that we convey the same to our children consciously or subconsciously. The truth is, culturally we were never taught to be sensitive towards diversity.
One recent article that shows our fear about the special needs people or anything different in general highlights the trauma often faced by the parents. This article is about Shanti Auluck, the director of Muskaan, a training and work centre for intellectually disabled. Shanti Auluck is a doctor of psychology. She confessed how about 20 families visited her home in New Delhi with their sons to arrange a marriage with her daughter, but all of the families were turned off by the fact that she had a son with Down’s Syndrome. The important fact here to notice is that the girl in question is ‘typical’, ‘independent’ and everything else about the family is good, but because she has a brother with special needs, she had to face this stigma, without any fault of hers or of her parents. Again, the culprit is ignorance and fear of unknown.
Diversity brings richness, not just of thoughts but of actions. At a workplace, people from diverse backgrounds can integrate best practices to bring optimum output. At home, diverse age groups mean healthy and valuable conversations across generations. The diversity in a classroom where children with special needs study means a better environment which would create sensitive and responsible adults, who would not fear people with disability but would help them engage at the level they can perform.
I believe this is time, where we need to raise our acceptance level and take it to new heights. A long time peace activist William Sloan Coffin has rightly said “Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without”. Tolerance, inter-cultural dialogue and all encompassing acceptance without judgement are more essential than ever. And as Nelson Mandela has put it beautifully, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite.”