Member, NBCC Committee on disability, Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network,WCC
“We seventy persons including those with Disabilities (PWDs) hailing from different walks of life as clerics, theologians, academicians, practitioners representing the traditions of Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Indigenous community, Islam, Jainism and Sikhism assembled at Nagpur to have an Interfaith Roundtable on Disability between August 07 and 09 2017 under the aegis of National Council of Churches in India – Indian Ecumenical Disability Accompaniment (NCCI -IDEA), World Council of Churches – Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network, Spalding Trust, Church of Ireland, World Vision India and Christian Service Agency.
We discussed on how religions look at PWDs; deliberated upon the status and place accorded by Holy Scriptures to such persons, what is God’s view on PWDs in different faiths and also on how faith communities look at PWDs. We discussed about the role of faith communities in promoting and inculcating the culture of inclusion in Faith Community and society.
We the participants of the Round Table would like to issue the following Faith Declaration on Disability from the unique learning experiences drawn from the round table:
Religions are essentially divine. Prophets/ Messengers of different faiths have disseminated diving precepts for human societies which in turn have constructed them to organize their lives on earth. Religions believe that the creations are part of the divine therefore potentially whole and worthy of divine and human compassion equally. They command us to lead a just and inclusive life and form community based on love and humanity/equality.
Some religious traditions tend to view divine creations in the confines of Cartesian dichotomy as good and bad, right and wrong, success and failure, desirable and despicable. Such qualifying notions coupled with hierarchic social arrangement and legitimize moral codes that are likely to be discriminatory unjust and exclusive, experienced throughout history in relation with PWD’s.
PWD is usually stereotyped as one who is less than normal, is at the receiving end and in need of compassionate assistance. Religious people and faith-based organizations holding such discretionary perceptions often mercifully turn down the PWD their legitimate space in active and creative life. In the name of tradition and culture, we tend to condescend towards them and in few extreme cases even demonize their physical appearances of their bodies and their desire to live dignified lives. Rather they are not to be objects of programmes but the subject of relationships.
This situation calls for deeper introspection and transformation so that religious traditions cease to be an agent of prejudice and discrimination. The divine spirit enshrined in religions prompt us to share with one another dignity and equality, while accepting differences and celebrating diverse lives as part of the divine whole.
We understand that humans are divinely manifested and that all must be allowed to celebrate their lives through just, responsible and transparent inclusive relationships. Such transcending love, inclusiveness and acceptance of people with differences and their families contribute to the holistic growth of human societies and the realization of the Divine in our lives.
We also recognize 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 PWDs 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. We appeal to all the Faith Based Organizations and Religious Heads to uphold the constitutional rights of all citizens including PWDs.
Therefore, we, the followers of different religious and faith traditions, solemnly declare that:
1. We affirm the innate potential of our respective religions / faith practices to enable us to recognize the “divine” design in one another and to inculcate loving human relationships of equality.
2. We condemn stigmatization, discrimination of PWD’s as morally unacceptable wherever it is practice and by whomever.
3. We recognize the need to create awareness within our religious communities on issues of Disability and towards transforming our communities that are inclusiveness.
4. We discern the need to relearn our traditions and rituals, festivals and feasts, practices and reinterpret scripture interpretations/understanding to purge them of ideologies of exclusions.
5. We respect the scriptures of each tradition and encourage inclusive religious places of celebration in regard to rituals, practices, festive and feasts.
6. We pledge to accompany friends and families who are excluded from participating in faith based activities due to their physical conditions and extend to them fellowship and solidarity in their yearning to be loved and right to live with dignity.
7. We commit ourselves to transform all our common places of worship into a welcoming, accessible and compatible space for PWDs.
8. We dedicate ourselves to safeguard the rights of all PWDs and to join hands with all civil society initiatives towards Just and Inclusive Communities.
9. We call upon religious leaders to preach inclusivity and to practice non-discriminatory employment policies in their institutions, and also to engage in affirmative action’s to end the discrimination that PWDs face in admissions and appointments.
10. We resolve to work incessantly to create just and inclusive communities with consistent practice of values of inclusion, compassion, justice and acceptance so that the divine image of God will be celebrated in all diverse manifestations.
We invite all faith leaders and adherents to join the pilgrimage towards Just and Inclusive Communities with possible interventions that upholds the dignity, defend rights and unites all of us for the cause of PWDs.
Adopted by the Participants of the Interfaith Round Table on Disability
August 7th to 9th 2017,