A round-table discussion on disability has brought together 70 participants from eight different faith backgrounds in India to explore how faith communities can promote a culture of inclusion. The event was organised by the Indian Disability Ecumenical Accompaniment (IDEA) programme of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI). IDEA helps NCCI member churches to be disabled friendly, and encourages them to accompany people with disabilities theologically, ministerially and diaconally.
The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michel Jackson, led the round table alongside Prof Dr Siddharthavinayaka P Kane, vice-chancellor of Nagpur University and speakers from India and England. In his address, Dr Jackson invited the faith communities to take part in conversation and collective engagement to realise inclusive societies “of” all and “for” all. Dr Jackson said that all religious scriptures are inclusive and portray God or gods as treating people with disabilities as “full human without any discriminations.” He said that faith communities need to reflect those godly images as they practice their faiths.
The round table explored how different religions treat people with disabilities, the status and place accorded by the various scriptures to such people, and how the different faiths’ gods view people with disabilities.
The round table concluded with a commitment from the participants to continue as an Interfaith Disability Advocates Network. They pledged to carry forward the conversations within their own faith communities and other faith communities. The participants also adopted an Interfaith Declaration on Disability. This will be translated into local languages and disseminated with the various faith communities.
In their declaration, the participants said that “in the name of tradition and culture, the faith communities in general [can] be condescending” towards people with disabilities “and in few extreme cases even demonise the physical appearances of their bodies and their desire to live dignified lives.” They say that people with disabilities “are not to be objects of programmes but the subject of relationships.”
They add that “humans are manifestations of the divine that all must be allowed to celebrate their lives through just, responsible and transparent inclusive relationships. Such transcending love, inclusiveness, recognitions and acceptance of people with differences and their families contribute to the holistic growth of human societies and the realisation of the divine in our lives.
“We also recognise that different physical and intellectual challenges are a part of the created order. We see this diversity in the wider community of all life.
“It is in this context that we appreciate the state policies, that affirm the rights of [people with disabilities] and promote the principle of inclusion in society, by upholding the fundamental human rights to a life of dignity and non-discrimination for all citizens as enshrined in the constitution.”
The NCCI brings together 30 Protestant and Orthodox Churches including the Church of South India, the Church of North India and the Mar Thoma Syrian Church. The round-table bought together representatives of different Christian churches as well as practitioners of Baha’i, Buddhism, Hinduism, Indigenous community, Islam, Jainism and Sikhism.