The Colloquium on Disability Discourse in Theological Education opened on 24th of April 2018 with powerful challenges from the General Secretary of the CSI, Dr. Rathnakara Sadananda and Mr. Deepak Nathan, founder of the Dec 3 Movement.
The General secretary outlined how true engagement with people could only arise out of recognition of the dignity of all human beings as the meaning of the image of God. God revealed in the Bible is a weak god, a vulnerable God, who takes risks to become nothing and transcends the being of existence – this is the image of God that gives us a chance to engage with people. Our susceptibility to risk gives us a chance to engage – that becomes the ground of our theologising.
Speaking on Disability as Diversity, Deepak Nathan challenged the theological fraternity gathered saying that as long as we do not see PwDs as equal with us or accept persons with disability as part of so-called “normal” society and as long as we think of disability as deficit we will not be able to recognize that ability and disability are part of nature. What we do to create an inclusive community for people with disabilities is not “charity” we do “for them”, but is a necessary part of building the community that recognises disability as part of natural diversity. A level playing field is a right given by God to every disabled person and non-disabled person. What we do to achieve a level playing field is not charity.
Persons with disabilities, parents of persons with disabilities, pastors with disabilities who are also parents of children with intellectual challenges, and Women with disabilities shared their experiences and stories of pain, stigma, challenges and achievements. They witnessed with power and clarity about how life continues despite all of this and they have dreams and aspirations of their own, rights to their own bodies and choices, their own articulation of what God, healing, wholeness means, about what pastoral care should be, what spirituality is and how the bible should be read from the perspective of persons with disabilities which needs a counter-cultural approach. They appealed with pain about what they expected a body of Christ should become in order to be a more inclusive church. They demanded with clear voices for scholarships, more resources, and reservation in jobs to be assigned within theological education for PwDs. This sharing and the inaugural worship that highlighted the issue of disability and labour grounded the gathering firmly in the real context and issues of disabilities in and from which any articulation on theological discourse on disability should begin.
This Colloquium that will end on 26th April 2018 is a joint program of CSI SEVA (DISHA), Senate of Serampore College (University) and BTESSC. The purpose of the Colloquium is to listen to voices of persons with disabilities with a view to reviewing the syllabus on Disability studies of SSC(U) and strengthening it with a resource book or reader to accompany it which draws from the genuine experiences and theological articulations of persons with disabilities and is written from their perspective. Dr. Santanu Patro, Registrar, Rev. Justin Moses, Deputy Registrar of SSC (University) brought greetings and also facilitated the sharing sessions while Dr. Lalrindiki Ralte, Dean, SCEPTRE and Rev. Asir Ebenezer, Director CSI SEVA facilitated the rest of the sessions of the day. The next two days will grapple with biblical texts using disability as a hermeneutical tool, learn more about the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 and plan the way forward for the creation of the Resource book.