Saturday, 19 May 2018

Pearls before swine, leading horses to water, when only man is vile, etc.


(1) public establishments - banks, restaurants, grocery stores -
could live up to their frequent promise to `assure you of our best
service at all times';

(2) if the you in (1) above included older people with locomotor problems,
even people with some manner of disability - locomotor/vision/hearing;

(3) that all the people mentioned in (2) above had access to all
facilities - electronic machines, toilets, ... - available to `normal'

(4) and if all this could be achieved by an email which would
get people with the expertise to take one look at the establishment
and tell you just what needs to be done.

Guess what! this is and has been possible in Chennai for many years. The
Disability Rights Alliance is a group of people who have been freely
offering such advice for years - without even charging for travel costs incurred - and it has been a case of pearls before swine. People say `sure, this has got to be done' but have done nothing! Like `taking a horse to water, but ...'.  I should stop maligning animals unnecessarily, when only man is vile!

I guess the problem is that DRA doesn't throw in a few ramps and disabled
friendly toilets for free! Anyone heard of  CSR?

Anyway, the offer is still there: interested people have only got to look
up DRA with Google's help and send that email!

The cause for this rant is that I have been having problems with both banks I have had an account with for years and have spent the last two days in their parking lots in the Chennai mid-May sun. Here is a photograph of the Adyar branch of one of those banks which explains why I was at their Mylapore branch yesterday - which branch had the inevitable `only one step'! When will people realise that anything at least as large as one is inaccessible for a wheelchair user? Why should ALL branches of ALL Banks be inaccessible?

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Open letter/plea to Mr. Pronoy Roy

Dear Mr. Roy,

I would like to ask a favour of you. Let me first introduce myself properly. I am (was?) a moderately accomplished and suitably decorated mathematician twenty years ago. Then I got multiple sclerosis 15 years ago, and slowly lost mobility. Ever since then, I have devoted a fair amount of time in disability activism. Incidentally, there are many such activists spread all over India, e.g., Shivani Gupta (Puttaparathi), Dr. Satendra Singh (Delhi), Vaishnavi Jayakumar (Chennai), and Muralidharan (Delhi) - all a lot more progressive minded than just about the only person with disability (PWD, from Delhi) who is ever consulted by the news media, including NDTV.

It is true, but rarely highlighted by the Press, that PWD have suffered at almost each of the series of brainwaves inflicted on the nation by the Modi-Jaitley duo, for instance:

(a) Demonetisation: did they spare a thought for a wheelchair user being forced to go at least once a week to a bank whose branches and ATMs are invariably totally inaccessible, or a blind person who suddenly has to deal with a new set of notes where notes of different denominations cannot be easily distinguished;

(b) Aadhar linking: People with various kinds of disability have difficulty in
recording a clear set of fingerprints: eg., a leprosy cured person may only
have a stump!

(c) GST: We saw calipers, wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs being taxed at 18%, while Agarbattis incurred 0% tax.

(d) Public transport: Wheelchair users like me have no access to public transport: the floors of metros and platforms do not match, it is impossible to get on a bus or a local train... We have to go by autos; and the rise in petrol/diesel prices does not make this an attractive option, especially when your disability makes it difficult to be gainfully employed.

(e) The whole issue of playing the National Anthem at the end of a movie when wheelchair users got manhandled for not standing up and marking their respect for the flag or got shouted down by apoplexic generals for not keeping their hand on their chest during the playing of the anthem.

(f) Budget: The budget has made no mention of provisions to fulfil the promises inherent in the RPD Bill of 2016, the Accessible India Campaign or Right to Education. Where are the funds to make a promised number b of buidings in c cities accessible by the end of 2018? (Incidentally the numbers b and c are woefully small and inadequate to make the large number N of our towns truly accessible!)

Now for that favour: I would love to see NDTV run a show (of the sort used in the Major Bakshi apoplexy episode discussed in (e)) with Modi and Jaitley occupying two of the six boxes and being bombarded on issues as above by Shivani, Satendra, Vaishnavi and Murali (occupying the remaining four boxes).

Looking forward to an early and positive response,
Thanks, and regards,

Saturday, 30 December 2017

One step forwards, two steps back

I have been a wheel-chair user since 2010. Consequently the railway, metro and buses in India have been a closed book to me since 2010. The only way I can traval is by cars (private or large taxis like an Innova which will have room to transport my wheelchair and care giver). Or I can fly on our airlines, fervently hoping that my (motorised) wheelchair will safely make it to my destination without its battery having been at the receiving end of a hatchet job by airport security personnel.

We have been making periodic attempts for several years at making the local metros, buses and roads/pavements accessible, and our successes can be listed on the head of a not particularly fat pin. Recently, some of us got to talk to the DG of CISF and found him very reasonable and amenable as we talked to him about problems we as PWD faced during air travel, the only (and not very cheap!) form of travel that is usable by us some of the time. I'd like to believe this catalysed two meetings of the big brass in the business of air travel, security, etc. After the last one, Nipun Malhotra posted on fb that he was now able to travel all the way sitting in his wheelchair, and I confirmed with him that I should not have a problem doing the same thing with mine.

On the other hand, the last of these Delhi meetings with accessible noises was held on Nov. 22, and not even four weeks later, a computer scientist friend of mine was prevented by the Air India ground staff from boarding a flight from Bengaluru to Delhi citing security concerns allegedly stemming from his battery-operated wheelchair. Mr. O.P. Singh, can you please have your rules, about carrying one's own wheelchair on our planes, uniformly and universally available? Among the security personnel of an airline/airport I have seen, I must have heard more than a 100 different and original interpretations of the rules concerning motorised wheelchairs. Will you please help remove this ever-threatening sword of Damocles hanging over wheelchair users trying to fly in our skies.

Although private airlines have also been guilty of making things difficult for PWD (eg, the famous Spicejet vs. Jeeja Ghosh incide, and even Indigo of late, which I tend to use because I felt they were disabled-friendly, it is our National Carrier that never fails to surprise me in their rudeness/disabled-unfriendliness. A classic instance of this is when an ex-Air Force pilot who lost his legs in an accident went on AI for a meeting in Singapore, only to discover to his horror that AI could not find his wheelchair when they got to Singapore, and they offered him no help in acquiring a wheelchair for temporary use. Unfortunately, when anybody's work related travel is funded by Govt. sources, there is a GO that such travel must be on AI. I suppose this is one (only?) way of keeping AI afloat! 

Just as they fixed Kaushik Majumdar on his way from his base in Bengaluru to Kolkata, they did such a hatchet job on my wheelchair on my Hyderabad-Chennai flight while returning from the International Congress of Mathematicians held at Hyderabad. All the wires connected to the battery had been systematically yanked out. As this was discovered in Chennai where this wheelchair had been made, I could have the damage rectified quickly. Since that day, I have never flown AI. 

Thursday, 9 November 2017


In the Indian Statistical Institute, when the honorific Professor or Doctor is used without a name following it, it always refers to its founder P.C. Mahalanobis or its leading statistician C.R. Rao, it being considered a sacrilege to suggest equating anybody else to one of these paragons. In my house, the word Doctor, if unqualified, always refers to Dr. Krishnamoorthy Srinivas, also respectfully called Chief or Professor in his Dept. of Neurology at the Voluntary Health Centre. Ever since I walked into his clinic after realising I had some neurological problem, I was captivated by him. On the one hand, his walls may be overflowing with his various degrees and assorted certificates, his table overflowing with photographs of various distinguished foreign doctors who visited his clinic, and he may seem to lose little time before letting you know of the prestigious schools and colleges he had studied at, and the rich and famous who have sought his expertise and help.

On the other hand, once you get past these superficial irritants, you discover you are in the presence of something rare that you cannot find for any amount of money: the very essence of the `family doctor', unfortunately a fast dying breed. The reason for this piece now is that he unfortunately passed away last week, and I want to sing his praises to the world. even if I have said some of this briefly in an earlier blogpost (in, where I describe my first meeting with him as one of my main `life-changing moments'.) I want the several immoral money-grabbing charlatans that call themselves `doctors' today to know what goes into the making of an exemplary upholder of the Hippocratic Oath.

How many doctors today
* give you their mobile phone number at your first meeting and ask you to always fix up an appointment first, and are in their cabin at least 5 min. prior to the time agreed upon?
* give you as much time as you need, and never rush you to leave?
* always enquire about the other members of your family and their well-being?
* never bring up the topic of money, and when you insist on asking him how much you should pay for his time, gives you the name of his favourite charity to which you may donate as much as you wish?

Whenever any of us (in my immediate family) required to consult a medical specialist of any sort, I would ask his advice. I still see an eye specialist recommended by him. Just two weeks ago, I needed an orthopedic specialist about a broken arm but Doctor was unfortunately not in the best of health - and yet he sent a name and a mobile phone number to my wife through his wife. When I saw that doctor, I could see he was of the same vintage. When I mentioned the indifferent health of Dr. Srinivas, he said `but I saw him just the other day in the Club'. The happy resolution of my orthopedic problem turns out to have been a parting gift from Doctor to an ever-appreciative patient of 17 years' standing. It appears that I can no longer postpone addressing the question of what I would do with my MS when I can no longer stop by his ever-welcoming room at the VHS. You will be missed so much by so many people in so many ways, Doctor!

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

bE  inclusivE

I first learnt the word `inclusion' in the context of set theory in mathematics. Here are two definitions that I'd like to see someone make some of our netas in Delhi write 100 times as an imposition.

A set (or collection) A is included in a set B if every member of A is a member of B.

Two sets A and B are equal if each is included in the other; i.e., they should have the same members.

For example, the set D of residents of Delhi is included in the set I of Indians. However, I is not equal to D since there are some members of I who do not have the good fortune of inhaling the polluted air of Delhi on a daily basis and instead live in `remote places' like Mumbai, Bengaluru or Chennai and are thus not members of D.

Some people are, however, still under the erroneous impression that I is equal to D. In case you are curious about why I am going on in this fashion, I will be more than glad to elaborate. As I do, you will find repeated confusing of I with D by members of D.

To start with, let me remind you that I spend a fair bit of my time being concerned with the work of a group calling ourselves the Disability Rights Alliance (DRA in the sequel). My friends in this group are largely from Chennai. All of this must be repeated ad nauseum, since we seem to be invisible to some of the more prominent disability activists in Delhi. For instance, a horrendous RPD Bill was almost passed in 2014, but many of us from DRA were at the forefront of a concerted campaign to bar the passage of this bill and in having it referred to a Standing Committee. This same Standing Committee almost fell into the I=D fallacy, and a further social media barrage from many of us made them avoid that error and come down to Chennai and another city in South India. They listened to our carefully prepared presentation and incorporated many of our suggestions in the report they gave the Govt. Unfortunately, the Govt. almost completely ignored that report and passed an RPD Bill - 2016 which still carried many faux pas of the 2014 precursor - and one of the oft-quoted Delhi disability activists was quoted by the press as hailing this landmark decision - even as many of us rued its divergence from the UNCRPD, in word and spirit.

And now I shall come to the Fall of 2017. Last month, we came to learn that the DG of CISF (Director General of Central Industrial Security Force) was going to be attending a meeting in Chennai. Now there had been many horror stories about indignities suffered in air travel by PWD, and CISF is in charge of security in airports. I was asked to pursue the possibility of some of us presenting our woes to the DG. After many emails and phone calls, I cajoled them into letting us present our point of view. That attempt saw the DG seeming to be very sympathetic and pro-active, going to the extent of asking me to send his office a copy of the presentation I had prepared of our points of view.

I followed this up with two or three mails where I pointed out at least two instances of passengers with disability suffering insensitive treatment at the hands of the security guards, and saying the time was ripe for a team from CISF and a group of disability activists to sit together to iron out their differences. Imagine my surprise at receiving an email on Oct. 4th, inviting me to exactly such a meeting on Oct. 11th. I wrote back saying nothing had been said about who would pay my airfare, and that it was clearly not proper for decisions to be made which would affect all Indians, with such decision-making being based only on opinions of Delhi-ites. To this, I got another email saying airfare could not be paid to people coming from outside Delhi, and suggesting that I provide them with names of some people based in Delhi. So I send desperate emails and phone calls to my PWD friends in Delhi to ensure our concerns would be well represented.

India is one of the most e-literate countries, and there is no excuse for not having this and all such meetings Skype enabled so interested people from any city, not even necessarily in India, can participate in them. There is absolutely no justification for excluding people on the basis of the city they live in, especially when technology makes it so easy to be e-inclusive!

I just heard yesterday's meeting went off quite satisfactorily and that a follow-up meeting is scheduled, which will be graced by the Minister of MSJE, and more importantly, will be accessible by skype to members of I-D! If this had been the case with yesterday's meeting, I could have been part of it from the comfort of my own study, and there need not have been all this tension and disappointment.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

We invite and piss on our teachers

This is an open letter to our Prime Minister(*), and people who organise functions in Vigyan Bhavan to honour respected teachers, and achievers in other fields. Can you imagine greater disrespect than for Arjuna to invite Krishna to pay homage to him and then have him informed that all sarathy's should use the rear entrance? What Vigyan Sadan doles out to its teachers and other achievers - at least those that are unfortunate to have a disability - is that same manner of disrespect. The latest such instance was the day `honouring teachers'. As Shradha Chettri sayn in her piece, this is at least the third instance of such flagrant violations of the RPD Bill by the organisers. What happened to Sugamya Bharat Abiyan, Pradhan Mantri-ji, which you have gone on record to call your `pet scheme'? Is there a date after which Vigyan Bhavan and similar inaccessible horrors handed down to us by our British masters have to start being accessible, or face consequent penalties? I can't wait for the day when I can sue these white elephants which bring shame on everything scientific. Watch out, Vigyan Sadan, JN Tata Auditrium and IISc - you are high on my `hit-list' When can I give documentation and demand action from the Accessible India Campaign?

(*) The fact that he passed the buck to the Vice-President this time makes him doubly guilty of lack of guru-bhakthi!

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Crying Need

Yesterday, I attended a meeting at Vidya Sagar, initially scheduled for 1030-1330. Many convincing points were raised, many obviously pressing considerations were brought up, but the issue is so large that no definitive conclusions could be reached nor could `to do' lists be drawn up. I unfortunately had to leave as it was already almost 1400 and there was no sign of some sort of consensus being reached any time soon. As though to punish me for my inconsiderate and rude behaviour, the elevator stopped almost as soon as I got in and it started moving! After repeated attempts to ring the alarm bell, I was finally `brought down'. After thinking about it, I felt I should try to make amends and try to raise general consciousness on the issue at hand.

The subject of the meeting was `supported decision making for persons with typically psycho-social or intellectual disability and even those with `high support needs'. If you think about it, most institutions for persons with disability were founded by a parent of a child with disability, eg., the Association of People with Disabilities (in Bangalore), the Spastic Society (in Bombay), Vidya Sagar (in Chennai), ... The over-riding concern/worry of N.S. Ayyangar, Mitu Alur and Poonam Natarajan would have been how the child would fend for herself/himself when the parents are no longer around! Much of yesterday's discussion centred on such worrying facts as: the `child' may not even be aware of money-management, or even permitted to open and maintain a bank account in view of our sloppy attempt at writing an India-specific version of the UNCRPD! The mind boggles at the magnitude of the problem of setting systems in place to help such `children' (who would likely be fully grown adults when confronted with the situation outlined).

There is a cousin of mine whose parents are no more, but fortunately, a trust was put in place by his father, manned by his son's siblings and their spouses, which was endowed sufficiently handsomely to ensure that his son's needs would always be taken care of - and fortunately there is no joker in the pack with the need/greed to misuse the funds set aside for running this trust. Since not everybody would be so fortunate, it seems natural that each such `child' must be able to have a body of trusted friends and relatives to orchestrate the necessary infrastructure to ensure a `normal' life, without fear of being taken advantage of by crooked members of his/her trust. The need to set desirable systems in place for every such `child' is the crying need of the hour that the group at Vidya Sagar attempted to make a dent into at yesterday's discussion. This is the sort of task that should be taken up seriously by our Ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment, rather than renaming themselves using the term Divyang-jan - by which artifice they divert the problem-solving to the divinity with which they portray the PWD they should be serving!

Why can't MyGov take a serious step in this direction? Most importantly, get inputs from the stakeholders before putting up a faulty system in place!