Kohima: In a first-of-its kind, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed on Monday between Nagaland State Rural Livelihoods Mission (NSRLM) and State Commissioner of Persons with Disabilities (PwD) in a bid to support and strengthen special PwD self-help groups (SHGs) in Nagaland. 

The MoU, inked for a period of 12 months initially, will be piloted in four model blocks namely Jakhama, Chumukedima, Longleng and Wokha blocks under Kohima, Dimapur, Longleng and Wokha districts, respectively. 

During the signing ceremony in Kohima, State Commissioner for PwD Diethono Nakhro said, “The first-of-its-kind project is a significant initiative towards supporting people with disabilities towards enabling them to live their lives with dignity, while also raising awareness and promoting acceptance of disabilities in the larger community.” 

She said the collaborative effort was much needed in the state, as persons with disabilities remained neglected in the past. 

She pointed out that as per the 2011 census, Nagaland recorded 29,631 PwD which is 1.5% of the total population. “Disability accentuates poverty because the systemic institutional, environmental and attitudinal barriers that people with disabilities encounter in their daily lives result in their entrenched social exclusion and their lack of participation in society,” she said. 

Nakhro added that women with disabilities significantly face more difficulties due to the existing gender biases and barriers around disability, and are also at higher risk of gender-based violence, sexual abuse, neglect, and exploitation. 

She said, “The SHG movement has now become an effective strategy for poverty alleviation and social mobilisation, as studies had shown that in areas with SHGs, persons with disabilities are coming out of isolation, driving their participation and inclusion in society.”

“Livelihood opportunities is, of course, a very important component. But, today, I want to underline the social interaction opportunities that SHGs provide because the social isolation that many disabled people experience is very poorly understood, and in fact very rarely discussed in our society,” she expressed with concern. 

While the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has forced the world to go into social isolation, she said that social isolation is nothing new for disabled persons as many PwDs remain confined to their homes with very little social interaction due to stigma, discrimination, misconceptions and negative attitudes about disability. 

The societal treatment of disabled people breeds isolation and loneliness and the isolation is not by choice but due to a lack of opportunities and options, Nakhro added. “Community groups like SHGs can help disabled people build relationships within the group and also in the wider community, and in the process help build their confidence and independence,” she said. 

She said, “The society as a whole has failed the disabled community.  However, the good news is that there is progress and gradually awareness is improving and changes are beginning to take place.”

Nakhro informed that all measures are taken to ensure that the provisions of the Right of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act is strictly implemented in the state, although much work needed to be done before Nagaland becomes a truly inclusive society. 

Joint secretary and mission director of NSRLM, Imtimenla, hoped that the initiative would help to provide the vulnerable community towards a meaningful life and also help them emerge as dignified members of the society. 

Currently, there are 765 exclusive Elderly SHGs and 59 exclusive SHGs of Persons with Disabilities under the Mission, while many are also part of the mainstream SHGs, she informed. 

As the pilot areas have been elected for target interventions, she said that an implementation framework will be developed by both partners upon signing of the MoU so that the activities can immediately begin in the target blocks. 

The MoU was signed in the presence of officers from both the departments at the hotel De-oriental grand. 

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