“I still lack the ability in proper pronunciation as my hearing loss naturally changed the course of my pronunciation.”
Hailing from Shesulimi village under Pughoboto sub-division, Engineer Ghunavi G Kinimi, a Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) in the Water Resources department, is a Person with Disability (PwD) – hearing impairment (55% disability).
Coming from a family that struggled financially and with his severe hearing disability, Kinimi defied societal norms and barriers which only a few have achieved. He experienced discrimination as a disabled, toiled in the fields, and went door-to-door with his mother to sell vegetables to be where he is today.
Within a few months of his birth, he was diagnosed with Acute Otitis media (collection of fluid in both ears) and survived through ‘the grace of God’. But soon after, his mother found that he had hearing loss, which gradually progressed from moderate to severe.
“My dad and relatives didn’t believe that I would survive but it was my mom who took great care of me without proper sleep and food for nearly six months after my birth,” he said.
“It’s not that my parents intentionally left my hearing problem untreated but due to the family’s financial constraints, my parents couldn’t afford to consult an audiologist or specialist doctor,” Kinimi said, adding “against all odds, they did their best with what resources they had, for which I am ever grateful.”
He is also indebted to his grandmothers for their motivation and help in cash and kind.
I still lack the ability in pronunciation as my hearing loss naturally changed the course of my pronunciation, Ghunavi says.
“My eldest sister sacrificed her education for us.”
With the family facing difficulties to meet basic needs, his eldest sister discontinued her education at class 8 even though she was a good student, he informed.
To me, she is the most educated one in our family, no matter what qualifications or how much my other siblings earn, Kinimi stated, adding that his father was a work-charged employee in the PWD (Housing) department with an irregular salary.
“My parents and eldest sister reared domestic animals, earned daily wages, cultivated paddy fields and crops to support my education. I still remember selling fresh vegetables from door-to-door all over Pughoboto town with my mom at a cheap price as we needed money to make ends meet,” he said.
Talking about support from his extended families, Er Kinimi informed that his cousin sister and her husband had helped him get his disability certificate after his class 10, which enabled him to pursue higher education.
A special student in education
Informing that he never attended any special schools, Kinimi attributed his education to his parents for always having faith in him. Talking about his education, he stated that it was not easy for him to compete due to his disability.
I still remember that I would miss hearing some lectures of my teachers. Sometimes I was punished for coming to class without homework which I had not heard the teacher assigning. I always took extra time to copy notes from my fellow classmates during recess or after class, he said.
Informing that he was ‘discriminated and bullied’ in the classroom, he said that he learned to remain humble and calm. One of my best school memories was the day I topped my final examination in class 4. It was a moment of great pride for me and my parents, he stated.
Talking about an incident in class 7 at Government High School, Pughoboto, Kinimi informed that he was the only student to score 80% and above in English without a subject teacher and added that he was the subject topper in Sumi (MIL) during his matriculation.
Expressing gratitude for his mother’s prayers, he informed that soon after his class 12, his high school teacher, Nisheto Sheqi and family, agreed to sponsor his further education enabling him to get his degree in Agricultural Engineering.
Non-availability of proper provisions and policy frameworks for PwDs
Dreaming to serve in Nagaland for the upliftment and benefit of the PwDs community, Kinimi informed that during the early stages, there was a barrier for him to enter into the government service as there was a lack of provisions and policies for PwDs.
The state government didn’t implement a reservation policy of posts identified as suitable for persons with benchmark disabilities except for a few non-gazette and non-technical posts issued by the Department of P&AR in 2008. This compelled me to write several representations for the welfare of PwDs in Nagaland, he stated.
The state government finally implemented the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 in 2019 and in accordance with this Act, the reservation policy of identified posts suitable for persons with benchmark disabilities came into force on 13 August, 2020. This guideline removed barriers and discrimination for me and I finally achieved my dream job through NPSC in the year 2022, Kinimi added.
Working experience as a PwD
Talking about his work experience, Kinimi informed that while he was preparing for competitive exams, he also served as a teacher at a school in Pughoboto.
After serving nearly one and half year as a teacher in a private school, I cleared Railway Recruitment Board (Non-Technical Popular Category) in 2016 and joined Indian Railways in September 2016 and posted in Guwahati, he said.
While serving in the Railway, he cleared a departmental exam in Nagaland for the post of Junior Accounts Assistant (JAA) in 2022 and accepted it even though it was a junior position because he wanted to serve in the state. But soon after, he cracked the Combined Technical Services conducted by NPSC.
I tendered my resignation as a JAA where I served for almost one year and joined as a Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) under the Department of Water Resources. I have been working as an SDO for nearly 5 months and am currently posted in Kohima, he informed.
It may be mentioned that he has never gone for any competitive exam coaching.
There were many cases where private employers in Nagaland denied me a job, citing the usual ‘not found suitable’ despite my qualification and work experience. This type of negative stereotyping and discrimination stigmatized me not to apply for any private job in the future, Kinimi said.
While working in the Railways, misunderstanding sometimes arose due to his disability, he informed.
I often responded by asking them to send any urgent matter through SMS, WhatsApp, e-office or email as I can’t hear them properly through telephone or phone call. Throughout my work in Railways, I encountered few officers and staff who discriminated against me for not hearing them properly, he said.
Informing that except for a few colleagues, he said that he never encountered much problems due to his disability because of the prevalent use of digital tools such as WhatsApp, emails etc. for work.
Moreover, most of the official works come in written order rather than speaking order so it enabled me to adjust, he added.
Adapting to life with a disability is never easy, but there are ways to help ourselves cope with limitations. People seem to think that we the disabled people are constantly unhappy due to the struggles we face and this leads to the misconception that disabled individuals are incompetent and incapable, Kinimi said.
Stating that ‘as a hearing-impaired person for almost 31 years, he often feels isolated within society and that everyone is judging him’, he added that he has learnt to accept his disability and attempt to embrace it as there is no known cure/improvement for his hearing condition (sensorineural hearing loss) as of yet.
Systematic discrimination against PwDs: Government, society and church
There are several challenges for PwDs in Nagaland to access job market in Nagaland. Some of the important factors which hinder them to access employment in Nagaland include lack of education and training, lack of financial resources, inaccessible workplace and attitudes of employers.
The government needs to immediately address the current employment gaps and challenges for PwDs in Nagaland, he says.
PwDs in Nagaland are always confronted by systematic discrimination, pejorative terminology and environmental barriers that hinder their equal participation in social lives and communities. Disabled or able-bodied, we all have the power and responsibility to make society more inclusive for everyone, Kinimi said.
Stating that people with disabilities are underrepresented in the church, despite having as much (or more) interest in faith as the average population, he added, “Until our church buildings, worship, and religious education programmes are made inviting, accessible, and open to all who wish to enter and join the church, there is little chance that people with disabilities will be seen or heard from there. They will remain outside of the building, rejected from potluck affairs, excluded from worship, and left out of the religious education activities and pastoral ministry of our congregations”.
He highlighted the two main images found in most religious writings reinforcing negative attitudes toward people with disabilities – disability as punishment for sin and people with disabilities as “objects of charity”.
Talking about the perception of PwDs in Naga society, he stated that, “Discrimination against PwDs is not widely understood, even among political, legal, and social institutions that are depended upon to put anti-discrimination laws in place”.
Persons with mental retardation or mental illness are stereotyped as violent. Hearing-impaired people often encounter individuals who shout at them as if they were also deaf. Many people stereotype persons with severe physical disabilities as also mentally impaired, he lamented.
A majority of Naga people believe that the cause of disability is due to the sin of parents or ancestors, which is not the truth at all. Nowhere is stigmatization more evident than with people disabled by mental retardation. Naga society has long viewed those individuals as sub-human, Kinimi said.
Many non-disabled people see the disabled as persons to be pitied and assume they are helpless and incompetent. Insisting the disabled must be protected rather than respected, the non-disabled unconsciously discriminate by keeping the disabled dependent on others for constant assistance. This form of discrimination, although stemming from sympathy and pity, keeps the disabled community socially and economically unproductive, he said.
Sometimes people can forget that a person with a disability is first and foremost a human being with desires, talents, skills, heartache and loss, just like everyone else, he said.
Message to the PwDs
Talking and sharing about your disability, embracing it empowers others and might even give others incentive to believe in themselves. It might even inspire them to embrace their own disability, he said in reply to what his message is to others like him.
Be happy, be yourself. If others don’t like it then let them be. If you live with a disability and feel like you want to embrace it then go ahead and do so, you have nothing to lose. But if you don’t want to then that is completely acceptable too. Do whatever makes you happy and content, live your life the way you desire, he concluded.
Ghunavi Kinimi remains grateful and happy despite the discrimination, problems and challenges he has faced as they shaped the person he is today.
Contributed by: Inakavi Kasho