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By Mamta Ghosh (Key Teacher and Coordinator in the RAISE-NE Shishu Sarothi)

My work as a Key Teacher and Coordinator in the RAISE-NE (Regional Action for Inclusive Education-Northeast) takes me to six partner schools in and around Kamrup (M). Each visit to a partner school is a unique experience. So here is this school vibrant with the diversity of its population. In the midst of all the action is a broad, silent smile which catches my attention. She moves about in silence, diligently performing her duties, ever smiling, revealing her tamul stained teeth.

One day as I was interacting with some of my friends from the Children’s Parliament, she quietly enters the class and drops a small packet of goodies in the hands of the boy (A) seated near the door and leaves. The students tell me that she is A’s aunt, and we continue with our discussions. Back in the staff room, she hands me a cup of tea and disappears with her infectious smile. We make small talk over the refreshing cup of tea and I happen to ask the teachers her name. To my shock they almost laughed out saying, ‘bengi’, an extremely derogatory term used to call a person with hearing impairment. It is always difficult to keep a hold on my emotions in such situations. But this is not the time to display my frustrations, I thought. Some action needs to be taken.

During the next visit, as I engage with my child parliamentarians, I give them homework to do. They were to find out the name of A’s aunt who is commonly referred to as ‘bengi’ by the entire school, teachers and students alike. Youngsters are always more accommodating and flexible as compared to adults with set beliefs and prejudice. The students did do their homework and were very enthusiastic in letting me know during the next visit that they now know her name and it starts with an ‘M’, just like mine. This set the tone for the session with the students on understanding disability. And at the very start it is about calling persons with disabilities by their name. ‘M’ who has a hearing impairment will prefer to be called by her name, ‘M’.