Inclusivity in all forms is still a myth!!

June, 2021

Dear Friends

A few months ago, I heard Dr. Mahanthesh, Founder Trustee of Samarthanam Trust (www.samarthanam.org) delivering a keynote address. It was not only inspirational but also thought provoking. Even after several months, one statement he made is still with me – “We have an inclusive recruitment policy and welcome all to join.”. This seemingly innocuous statement can be better appreciated if you know that Samarthanam is a Trust for the Disabled set up by Dr. Mahanthesh 25 years ago in Bangalore.

A disability rights advocate, motivational speaker, an avid traveller, technology follower, blind cricket player (President of World Blind Cricket Council that conducts international blind cricket tournaments), English literature enthusiast, notable academician, he is a visionary leader who says “I believe in building a society where people with disabilities are potential tax-payers but not dole recipients.” Who says you need Vision to be a Visionary ? Now, coming back to his statement on inclusivity, my take was that he was referring to a large section of us from the main-stream population who are supposed to be ‘fully abled”. While we are under the false notion that specially abled brethren require an inclusive policy since they are marginalised, try entering into their world and see. Can we resonate with them, empathise with them and work as well as they do unless they have an ‘inclusive mindset’ too ? The majority need not always think that we are being generous and benevolent in letting the minority into our world. It can be reverse too. Needs a large heart and futuristic thinking to create a world where there are no barriers and pathways like ‘inclusive’ and ‘exclusive’ but just a fair and common ground for all to live together – much like the animal world and the plant kingdom where the philosophy of “Live and Let Live” rules !

Contrast this with what a deplorable experience one of my fellow cancer survivors had recently with recruitment. An IT industry star performer, he shared that he was not considered for some senior position in a new company because of his social media presence. And what was his crime ? Merely showcasing on facebook and Linkedin, his activities in a voluntary cancer support group ! Can you believe that a well-known MNC can discriminate against a person for advocating wellness and cancer awareness ? It left me fuming with indignation and I retorted “why don’t you say no to such MNCs instead of they rejecting you?”. For reasons best known to him, my good friend has become rather quiet and discrete in his support to our Voluntary Cancer Support Group, working only on the tech bit in the background with no public appearances whatsoever. Hard to digest that such discriminatory policies still exist in the corporate world. But let me also share that there are several others out there who encourage such voluntary activities and infact recognise employees for their contribution. Thanks to such corporates, during the covid pandemic we were able to conduct several Corporate Connect programmes on wellness from our Cancer Support Group. Thanks to me being my own boss, I have the freedom and discretion to stand up for whatever I believe in and advocate its cause.

If digital technology was meant to bridge the gap between urban and rural students, lack of appropriate infrastructure is increasing the divide. One of my employees who is from the Malnad region in Karnataka was lamenting about how children in his village are unable to attend the online classes due to connectivity issues. Only when a group of angry youngsters made a video (that went viral) of students scampering up to hilltops to find the right internet spot did it catch the attention of the Minister. It was quite unfortunate to see how parents were holding umbrellas for their children while they sat on the hillocks trying to catch up with their daily lessons in the rain. Pandemic has been unforgiving in many ways but government apathy with respect to digital infrastructure creation and maintenance in rural areas has been even worse. My employee was quite piqued that this kind of discrimination against rural children is going unnoticed despite claims of so many government schemes. One can argue that the Digital world is One world for All but there is a long way to go. Inclusivity in all forms is still a myth and will always be work in progress !