Log drums and joyous yells resound through Kisama as Nagaland showcases itself in all glory at the Hornbill Festival. For Fatima Kera seated in her stall in a corner of the heritage village that is Kisama, the festivities are so near and yet so far. A person with Locomotor disability, walking all the way up to the Window to Nagaland, as the amphitheater is named, is too taxing for Kera. Locomotor disability is a disability of the bones, joint or muscles leading to substantial restriction of the movement of the limbs. In Kera’s case, it has affected her legs. So seated at the Nagaland State Disability Forum stall, situated below the Food Park, she “listens” to the ongoing festivities. Manning the stall, which sees scanty visitors, along with Kera is Ashe Kiba. She has congenital hand deformity.
The ‘Grand Hornbill Festival’ is how the Nagaland state government and media dub the 10-day cultural extravaganza. But there is nothing grand about the government’s arrangements for the physically challenged at the festival venue.
Nagaland opens its doors to the world with the Hornbill festival, warmly welcoming tourists. Ask the tourists and their opinion would be unanimous – “Nagas are warm-hearted people”. Yet the Hornbill venue is conspicuous by the lack of warmth and the apathy towards the disabled. Like most infrastructure in the state, the venue for the hyped Hornbill festival can hardly be called disabled-friendly. Not for physically-challenged tourists, and surely not for the disabled participants at the festival. There are no ramps or other arrangements to facilitate access for the disabled at the Hornbill venue, a hilly terrain.
As Ashe Kiba informs, “there was hardly any awareness about the rights of the disabled people before the Nagaland State Disability Forum was formed in 2014.” It was to build awareness about the disabled that the Forum petitioned for a stall at the Hornbill Festival in 2015. Reaching the stall that was allocated to them was not a cake-walk for even an “abled” person, at the commercial hub. For 2016, the Forum asked for a more accessible stall and was allocated one below the Food Park, where it is currently located. “This stall is much more accessible than the one we were allocated in 2015, but sadly the approach to our stall is still not disabled-friendly”, Kiba points out.
Most visitors to the festival are not aware of the existence of the stall as its location hardly offers any visibility.
This year the Tourism department has put in some work to build a better approach road but the Forum was not consulted about the requirements. “The tourism department has made the approach road but they are not really aware of our needs; they should consult us”, says Ashe, while innocently adding that their ignorance is not unfathomable as “we ourselves till recently were not aware about what we deserved and what can make life easier for us”. The department has also renovated one toilet to make it disabled-friendly and the stall is located next to that. But as one can see the whole layout is not too appealing to those physically challenged.
Ashe is thankful to the Tourism department for not charging any rent for the stall – all stalls put up at the venue are charged a daily rent for 10 days. But she adds that for many the attitude is that of “charity”. “We don’t need charity, we need what we rightfully deserve”, Kera asserts.
Even the small church that stands next to the amphitheatre doesn’t have a ramp for easy access for the disabled.
Kera rues that the state government has done nothing to make the Hornbill festival venue disabled-friendly despite the Forum’s appeals since 2015. People in wheelchairs can access the amphitheatre with somebody assisting them but cannot access the morungs, the indigenous Naga huts, key feature of the festival.
While the morungs and commercial stalls are doing brisk business, the Disability Forum stall, offering Naga thali and a few fast food items at competitive rates, barely rakes in enough to cover expenditures. But as both ladies assert, business is not important; making people aware of the right to a decent life for physically challenged people is the prime objective.
Ashe Kiba is the secretary in the Forum while Fatima Kera is an executive member.