Saturday, 28 December 2013

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings


Let me shift gears and toggle from pessimistic to optimistic and report on a couple of things I experienced not too long ago.

The first such happy event occurrred a few days before I got to Bangalore. I had been invited to lecture at an event (Anusandhan 2013) organised on the occasion of the bicentennary celebrations of Presidency University (nee College). Attending this event would mean my going to Kolkata for just a couple of days and directly fly to Bangalore the evening before the conference that was chronicled in the previous posts. But what made me accept this invitation was: (a) the entire event was being organised by students - including deciding on the programme, getting sponsors to fund the event, etc.. and (b) their responding to my announcing the need for `reasonable accommodation' in order to account for my mobility problems, by promptly changing the originally planned reservation in Calcutta Club (probably unchanged since colonial times and full of steps everywhere without a sign of a ramp) to the `Peerless Inn', a hotel in Esplanade with ramps, elevators and other modern amenities, and (c) their promising to have the SUV-type Tavera (large enough to easily transport my wheel-chair and our luggage) at my disposal from the time of our arrival till our departure at Kolkata University. And every time we traveled anywhere, we were escorted by a a bright young student, often even younger than our daughter; and when I said they did not have to inconvenience themselves on our account as there must be plenty of other work that might need them, I was sweetly told that they always accorded this hospitality to all their guests. We would be escorted through routes in the university which were accessible to my wheel-chair, and served lunch in the office of an equally hospitable assistant registrar. Here is one shot I managed to get of an idyllic garden in the college


 as we went from that room to the lecture hall - and these kids had made sure there were ramps wherever needed and never gave me an occasion to feel part of a traveling freak show!

And just yesterday, we had gone to meet and have lunch with Siva who had come from Bangalore where he (i) had been a student of some Master's level courses I taught long ago at ISI, (ii) joined ISI as a faculty member almost a decade after (i) above; (he sought my advice from UBC at Vancouver where he was a Post-Doc. then, as to where in India he should apply to, as he was ready to come back home); (iii) continues to thrive in ISI after having followed my advice to turn down a job offer from IISc a few years later (when they made him an offer at exactly the same level he was already working in at ISI, expecting him to take up the offer purely because of the location and `prestige' of IISc!) (iv) still was, was when we collaborated on a book, which has been very well-received, if I may say so myself; (v) was recognised for his work by being awarded the Bhatnagar Award last year. Anyway, he is now married and has a daughter, the apple of his eye, a three or four year-old, who has him twisted around her little finger. The point of this story is this: the last time she had seen me was when I was in my wheelchair, and she remembered me as the `thatha (grandfather/old man) who had given her some fish', when Siva tried to explain to her who they were going to be meeting for lunch, And as they entered the restaurant, after climbinng the  mandatory number of steps, she apparently asked Siva the obvious question troubling her: `But Appa, how will Sunder thatha come up these steps?' Maybe there is hope for future generations of people with disabilities, after all!

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

A post-script to my last post

I missed a couple of points:

As you approach the Faculty Hall from the road, there is a line of potted plants spaced about 3 ft apart. I could just squeeze in, with the leaves of shrubs scratching my legs as I did.

The Conference Dinner was held (fortunately) on the lawns of the JNC Guest House, but access to this lawn has a funky design, with iron chains placed in such a devious manner that the only way in is to get out of the chair and hobble out past this maze-like hurdle, while some two people bodily carry the chair across. And when one needs to use the facility, one has to get to the entrance of the building and again have somebody help lift the chair up the step that needs to be negotiated.

I wonder if things would have been any more accessible in the guest house of IISc. Is there a hope that there will be some ramps and accessible toilets there before the next century? I would not wager heavily on such a happy ending!

What is particularly discomforting is that everytime one needs to execute one of these delicate manoeuvres, there will be some ten people standing around solicitously standing by and trying to help - and one has to ask them to stop, and do only such-and-such, and to not press down at arbitrary places, as the wheel-chair has got reduced to a state of barely hanging together, since many vital bushes invariably get missing every time the chair was checked in through one of the two or three flights we had made in coming from Chennai.


Sunday, 22 December 2013

The mother of all institutes


I am afraid I am going to return to the theme that got me started writing on (lack of) accessibility in some of our premier institutions. It started with my writing to Current Science about the totally inaccessible nature of the JN Tata Auditorium, where the Indian Academy of Sciences (IAS) likes to have its periodic meetings. I personally handed over that manuscript  to the then Chief Editor of CS who also happened to be the director of IISc. I even requested him to use his good offices to have the IISc made disabled friendly.

And now, more than two years later, I have come to attend a conference being organised by some of my friends in Bangalore. I was supposed to give a plenary lecture, to be held at the `Faculty Hall' where the IAS used to hold its annual meetings before some genius thought of using the J N Tata Auditorium for that purpose. So, a few weeks before the event, I let my mind run over what it remembered of this hall, and promptly wrote to one of my organiser friends to say that as far as I could recall, there was no ramp to get on to the dais, and I asked him if he would kindly take look to see if any good samaritan had changed the state of accessibility of this lecture hall (although I wasn't very hopeful). I even pointed him to a link to an  earlier post in this blog where I was griping about a visit to IIT Bombay in which I had suggested how simple tailor-made ramps could be made by anybody with minimal carpentry skills  - with a photograph of a sample I had seen in a scanning centre in Chennai.

I can say without a shadow of doubt that the IISc is the most disabled unfriendly among all the `more reputed' centres of higher learning that I have visited. The current visit hs left me so disgusted that I have promised myself that I will never again come to a conference in IISc. Let me try and justify this extreme disenchantment, by explaining the sample day I have been experiencing this week. When I first get into the building housing  the hallowed Faculty Hall,  I have to go up up a floor, and the only elevator

For the thin man

in the building is so narrow I cannot drive my wheelchair into it. Meanwhile this lift has no sensor, so the door will try to slam shut after a few seconds even if a person or object is in the way unless one keeps the `open-door' button inside the elevator pressed to keep the door open -  altogether a treat for a person trying to do this alone from a wheelchair.So I have to then get out of my wheelchair, and ask  some passer-by to help pull up the seat so the chair can be `folded' and then wheel in the now thinner chair, after I have quickly hobbled in, and located myself suitably so that I can keep the open-door button pressed while the `volunteered passer-by' wheels the chair and squeezes herself into the unused corner of the elevator.  Anyway the point is that I need to inconvenience myself and a passer-by, more than somewhat, to get in or out of this elevator.

And there are several parallel sessions going on in different halls in different buildings, at least one of which is not on the ground floor, and is in a building without elevators!

And lunch is on the terrace of the building housing the math dept. This building has an elevator which can be accessed from the parking lot - but requires you to climb a steep gradient and press the elevator button just when you have barely reached the top of the incline:



The elevator is barely deep enough and the doors can close only after I have moved in so far that the foot-pedals are hitting against the inside wall. Similarly, when you come back down, you have the stimulating thrill of backing out of the elevator onto a ramp going downhill on a steep incline. In the `up-direction' this elevator does take one all the way to the terrace on the roof, but here too, you have to negotiate a couple of ramps with really steep gradients:


There are such gradients inside the building too, on the second/third floors,


where the slope is so great as to always cause my wheelchair to veer to one side.

There is no end to my list of woes. My friend did manage to get a temporary ramp installed for me to get on the dais to lecture, but the gradient was again too much and led to my chair veering to one side.
If you want to use the toilet, there are further hurdles to be negotiated:


Up, up and away
When I was coming down from the elevator after the last talk of the conference, and was being assisted through my usual routine by a former student, she said feelingly: `Don't come here for any future conferences you might be invited to'! She had spent enough time with me to exactly read my thoughts!

I hope my friends will not mind my saying so, but such institutions should set positive, rather than negative examples of how to make themselves accessible for a PwD to function independently, unescorted, and with dignity. I am sorry guys, but after this experience, even though I know several people have worked hard at the last minute to smoothen things for me, I have promised myself that I will never again submit myself to the lack of appreciation in IISc of the need for universal design. I will come when people who want me to come have made efforts to spread the understanding that people with disabilities should be provided with a barrier-free environment where they can function independently, without the need of a constant attendant, and in short, be able to lead a life in dignity and contritibute their mite to society.

I hope my friends will take these diatribes the way they are meant: by making such displeasure public, I believe I have contributed to improving the state of accessibility in such places as the IIT's at Madras and Bombay, the ISI's at Kolkata and New Delhi, and the University of Hyderabad. I am happy to report that ISI Bangalore, which always has a special place in my heart, has demonstrated its sensitivity by independently rendering itself almost entirely accessible. And I hope such taunts and jibes may help in finally getting the sacred Indian temples for science (like  TIFR and IISc) to start thinking inclusively.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Democracy for whom?


I had written a recent post (see http://differentstrokes-vss.blogspot.in/2013/09/just-another-way-we-are-eliminated.html in this blog) but the enclosed email doing the rounds in my `PwD' circles says this much more emphatically:



PLEASE HAVE A LOOK AND ENDORSE IF YOU DEEM IT FIT

 PETITION ON



DELHI DISENFRANCHISING THE DISABLED



To:

_Election Commission of India_

   Nirvachan Sadan,
   Ashoka Road, New Delhi-110001



 



 



 Sir/Madam:



 No citizen of this country can be denied the right to vote.



Yet, even as Delhi hails an impressive voter turn- out and calls it a
‘historic’ poll, the truth is that wheel chair users or visually
impaired voters were effectively sought to be disenfranchised in this
election. This is not only a matter of deep shame but a complete
violation of Supreme Court orders.



Just a day before Delhi went to polls we marked the _International
Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3rd 2013_. This was an
occasion to renew our commitments to full inclusion and access, yet
one day later India and Delhi violated this very promise.



We would like to remind the nation and the Election Commission of
India that Delhi has 80,000 disabled voters. Yet, there was no
information in print, television or radio on facilities for visually
impaired voters or wheel chair users. Moreover, the website of
Election Commission of India remains inaccessible to visually impaired
persons. Do the voting rights of Indian citizens depend on their
different abilities – whether mobility or sight?



Given below are a few examples of what has clearly been a widespread
violation of the rights of differently abled voters across Delhi:



·      West Rajouri Garden Polling booth number 138 had no
ramps for wheelchairs and no braille stickers Dr. Anita Ghai, who uses
a wheel chair could not reach the booth, but because she stood there
protesting, she was lifted by the NDTV team as well as authorities and
taken to the booth. The desire and determination was simply to vote,
because to _not_ vote would go against her democratic and feminist
principles.

·      Mr. Virender Kalra, a bank manager and a resident of
Subhash Nagar, found there was no ramp for his wheelchair, so he got
two persons to lift him and take him inside the polling booth.

·      Polling booths number 11, 12,13, 14 in Rajokri had no
ramps and braille stickers.

·      Polling booth 13 in Rajokri had 7 stairs, again with no
ramps.

·      Abha Khetrapal  , a wheelchair user   could not cast
her vote.

·      Shivani Gupta (Booth no. 23 in 45 Mehrauli) could not
cast her vote. She described her experience -  ‘Yesterday I went to
cast my vote for the Delhi assembly elections. This was the third time
I had gone to cast my vote, but in terms of accessibility nothing had
improved in so many years except there was a ramp. Having a ramp alone
is not a solution to enable persons using wheelchairs to vote. I
wasn’t able to cast my vote in spite of this ramp for the reasons
described below. 1) The route to reach the ramp was inaccessible. It
was a long uneven route difficult to negotiate for a wheelchair user.
2) The entry gate to the school had only the wicket gate open with a
baton in the bottom at the height of 8 cm restricting wheelchair
access. 3) The security did not have the key to be able to open the
main gate. 4)  The voting room entrance doors had wooden poles to
divide the way to enter and exit the room. This division made the
clear space to enter or exit the room very narrow for a wheelchair
user to pass

·      Neeru Gautam, tried to cast her vote by taking her power
chair all the way to the polling station in Block 26 Community Centre.
She realised there was no ramp to enter and the entrance to the room
was also blocked by a wooden pole which had been placed in the middle
of the passage to segregate the incoming and leaving voters. She asked
the election staff to come out and help her cast her vote. But despite
repeated pleas, no one came forward. Then one person offered to lift
her physically, which she refused as she felt it was humiliating and
undignified, and came back without casting her vote.



For a person using a wheel chair, being physically lifted in this
manner is deeply humiliating. And yet, many disabled voters, like Mr.
Kalra and Dr. Anita Ghai, subjected themselves to this humiliation, as
a determined act of citizenship, to make their voice count in our
democracy. Others, similarly placed, did not or could not.



In the case of Dr. Anita Ghai, there was proof of this violation,
merely because an NDTV camera crew, which had gone to cover a
celebrity voting, coincidentally happened to be present at the time
that she was trying to cast her vote, and so Dr. Anita Ghai was
allowed, albeit in a humiliating manner, to exercise her franchise. In
other instances, there is oftentimes no ‘proof’ that is demanded
by the system, before it accepts or corrects its failures.



We must worry that if this is the situation in the nation’s capital,
how grave the situation will be elsewhere, across the country, in
smaller towns and cities and in rural areas.



The Election Commission is duty bound to ensure that each and every
citizen can cast his or her vote. They ought to have implemented full
access to differently abled citizens to polling booths and publicized
them.



We demand:



§  The Election Commission of India and the Chief Electoral
Officer, Delhi issue an immediate written and public apology to all
differently abled voters who were unable to cast their vote in the
Delhi election due to lack of facilities enabling them to do so.

§  The Election Commission of India to issue orders, and give
written assurances that all facilities for the visually impaired and
wheel chair bound citizens shall be provided in future elections
across India. Further, that such facilities shall be duly publicized
through the print and electronic media.



Anita Ghai

Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Master's Voice


Last evening was an absolute revelation. It was almost like I was being treated to a most impressive personality saying the exact things I have been wanting to hear. The occasion was a lecture organised by the ITDP (Institute for Transportation and Development Policy) at the Central Lecture Theatre of the IIT (Madras). I had received an email from one of my friends saying this was not to be missed - as the exuberant championing by the speaker of a cause that was close to both our hearts was a joy to behold. The space near the venue was also supposed to hold a sort of display of the projects currently being worked on by ITDP. The lecture was supposed to be from 6 to 8 in the evening, so I went there at 5.30 to give myself enough time to lap it all up. ITDP, along with like-minded partners (Chennai City Connect, many senior people in the Chennai Corporation who had been shown the light and were glad to participate, etc.), has taken on the task of making large parts, if not eventually all, of Chennai accessible to pedestrians and cyclists (and wheel-chair users!); and the `display' showed their amazingly transformed visions of T.Nagar, parts of Egmore and Mylapore.

Finally around 6.30, we were all told the lecture was going to begin, and we trooped in to `CLT'. The proceedings were flagged off by the Regional Director (India) of ITDP, a young woman, who introduced the speaker (between efforts to set right the erratic computer projection system). The speaker was Enrique Penalosa, the current Director of the Board of Directors of ITDP. (He had earlier served terms as President of ITDP, as well as Mayor of Bogota, Colombia.) The woman (Shreya) who introduced him, described him as the spirit of ITDP who inspired all of them.

The moment the man came to the poodium, it was clear why she said what she did. He positively bubbled with his fervour and enthusiastic espousal of the theme of how we ourselves should claim our own cities, and work towards ensuring that our city spaces were shared democratically. The cyclist and pedestrian have as much right to the city roads as the automobile driver. He gave chilling statistics of how many people/children had been killed by automobiles within the first 25 years of their entry on the American landscape. He pointed out that 40 years from now, Chennai's population would be 400% of what it is today. Realising that Bogota was headed the same way as Chennai is today, he used his good offices as Mayor to introduce a Bus-based rapid transport system by reserving a wide central strip of city roads solely for the use of these buses. So you saw traffic in the extreme lanes resembling giant parking lots while the central lane saw buses whizzing by compltely unfettered. As he rightly points out: A bus carrying 100 passengers must have as much room as a 100 Mercedes Benzes with one passenger each!

He also correctly pointed out that the most favoured cities were the ones which had the most public spaces, parks and pedestrian spaces to offer, and which had attractive pedestrian facilities near their water bodies. The proliferation of malls is because they are the only places where there are wide walking spaces for people  - with baby strollers or wheel-chairs!. He showed such public open air spaces in Copenhagen, Paris and New York (where you could enjoy the distinguishing special features of these cities - as against the universally isomorphic copies of Reeboks showrooms). He showed photographs of  areas which had once been infested and controlled by drug dealers/users in Bogota - before and after he had transformed them to beautiful pedestrian-friendly places. What you need, first and foremost, are good, wide and usable pavements. These words were music to my ears. It felt like a parched throat being offered the most delicious nectar. When can my lip taste  it?

Finally, a sour note to end this `feel-good' story. The projection of the carefully prepared presentation was visible for only about 25% of the duration of his talk. The `systems people' kept walking up and down with no tangible results. If we were able to see the 25% that we did, it was because poor Shreya spent the entire evening holding the two sides of a connection precariously held together by a piece of masking tape which is at least a few years old, by the sight of it. That this should happen in `the great Indian Institute of Technology' - pretty much like the music system at the Music Academy, one of the prime auditoria used in Chennai's world-famous music season each winter, would emit one of those ear-splitting shrieks peiodically - was embarrassing and infuriating. As my friend Raj (who initially alerted me of Penalosa's lecture, and about whom I wrote in the post `A glimmer of hope' in this blog) said at the end of the talk yesterday, we should be ashamed of ourselves!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Black vs. disabled


It is perhaps not surprising that there are so many parallels between the issues that PwD face in India and the consequent activism they have to put in, on the one hand, and the the trials and tribulations that black American people were subjected to, on the other.

I will deliberately call them black, and not  African, American because the latter terminology stresses the point that this group of people were brought in as slaves from Africa (and hence must learn to settle for less), rather than that these people are just as American today as apple pie and baseball (remember Hank Aaron?), while it is the colour of their skin which singles them out for the issues they face and have to battle. Just as I will refer to PwD (people with disability) rather than `the differently abled', as the latter phrase stresses that this set of people are different from the run-of-the-mill citizen, while it is the existence of a disability that sets them apart from their physically perfect countrymen who sometimes perpetrate unthinkable horrors on their fellow-man/woman.

It was not long ago that black people were not allowed to eat in restaurants or use public toilets. This was because of racist ideology. Today, people like me are prevented from entering restaurants or using public toilets because of the NON-universal design that mandates climbing some steps to enter the reataurant and inaccessibility of toilets to wheelchair users.

Not long ago, black people were not allowd to sit anywhere but the rear of buses. Today, we can't even enter buses because of the wretched steps.

But there are differences. Black people had a leader `who had a dream', behind whom his people rose as one to make his dream their reality. To the extent that they have a black President of the US today, who came into power following resounding support from the younger and less reactionary American (black, white, yellow or brown) because they wanted to believe him when he said `Yes we can' accomplish things that were unthinkable in the time of his grandmother.

We, unfortuntely, have not had our Martin Luther King Jr. to lead us out of our dark times, let alone even think of having anything remotely akin to our Barack Obama. This has not been for want of trying. There have been exmplary models of PwD showing the world they can do anything the `ordinarily abled' can do, as well or better. We have had no dearth of role-models - like Rahul Cherian, Satendra Singh and Madhavi Latha (who incidentally writes an eye-opening blog called `Yes, we too can'). But we need our MLK to garner political clout , as that seems the only way to achieve anything in our country which has rapists and murderers among people in political power, while we are completely impotent to enforce something that `became a law' almost 20 years ago!

In order to even get to talk to one of the senior people in government circles, we always have to go through an insensitive security force which creates problems to even permit our vehicles to go past the ever-present yellow police baricades to drop us close to the desired building, before we have to climb the omnipresent steps before even entering the building! I always keep asking if they cannot come once for a meeting in an accessible place - so they understand what we are talking about, see what universal design  and a barrier-free environment look like, and further realise that such places do and can exist - albeit in in isolated pockets (oases) - in Indian cities. I only receive astonished glares at my gall at suggesting that the great man/woman come to visit mere commoners!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

A glimmer of hope?


A couple of days ago, a bunch of our group (DRA) met with some members of an organisation called Chennai City Connect. The agenda was to discuss a programme that they were undertaking to re-design the city roads so they have wide pavements which would be accessible to all users, the elderly, pregnant mothers, children, wheel-chair users,.... It was a wonderful meeting for three reasons:

(i) It was hosted most charmingly in the office of Smita at Vidya Sagar, where we had a small but serious group of people wanting to do something about the grim reality of insensitivity outside the confines of rare oases such as Vidya Sagar.

(ii) The Director of Vidya Sagar came into the office at some point, fussed about our levels of comfort and protection we might need againsat the ubiquitous mosquitoes, and came and vcoluntarily joined our discussion. It felt a little like having your mother around to make sure things were just right.

(iii) And last but not least was the contagious positivity and optimism of Raj Cherubal (to meet with whom this meeting had been fixed). By the time we dispersed that evening, I was convinced that within a month, there would be several roads in Chennai which would look like what is proposed in http://chennaicityconnect.com/featured/besant-nagar-second-avenue/, and that it was simply a matter of time before this transformation was complete! (The last time I saw such positivity was when Bhargav Sundaram convinced me several years ago that buying a motorised wheelchair (rather than painfully stumbling along with a crutch) would liberate and empower me and should not be viewed as accepting defeat. I followed his advice and have never regretted it.)

What was energising about Raj's optimism was that almost the entire Chennai City Corporation seemed to be sold on the need to work towards this transformation of the city! To see what I mean, take a look at this (in which photograph Raj may be seen second from the right). He explained this trip where he took all these Government officials on a 5 1/2 hour jaunt involving crossing the crowded Poonamallee High Road to cross from Central Station to Park station, taking an electric train to some point, then switching over to MRTS, buyimg train tickets, traveling across town to Thiruvanmiyur, going up, across and down the almost sadistically constructed pedestrian over bridges across OMR, taking a bus to Guindy Station, taking a train from Guindy to the airport, etc. Apparently, none of the Govt. officials objectecd to this exercise, but were, on the contrary, happy to become aware of what most Chennai residents faced.

And within a couple of days of our meeting at Vidya Sagar, he had already spoken to the Chennai Corporation Commissioner about the discussions we had all had at Vidya Sagar, and sent me an email with contact details of how I could fix up a meeting between members of DRA and the Commissioner to try and carry forward some of our common ambitions on this much wanted exercise of rendering Chennai accessible to People with Disabilities.

Today, I am more positive about the possibility of seeing an  accessible Chennai in my life-time. Thanks Raj! May more of your tribe thrive and make a reality of the hopes and dreams of millions of disabled people.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A change of pace


As a tension releasing change of tone, I thought I would not write on the grim realities of getting government officials to do something to alleviate the lot of PwD. Instead, I shall talk of something refreshingly positive.

This whole series of events started with a not very encouraging visit that some of our group (we call ourselves `Disability Rights Alliance') made to the Pallavan House - which visit I chronicled in an earlier post in this blog. As mentioned in this post, we were told that part of the reason for buses not being more accessible was such considerations of the of bus mnufacturers as a desire to get rid of unsold stock. As also mentioned in the above-mentioned post, I offered to help set up a meeting with a senior executive of Ashok Leylands who had been a friend of one of my brothers in school. So I dashed off an email to Mr. Seshasayee (the senior executive mentioned earlier). As a result of our individual itineraries this summer, we could not manage to find a common time to meet until a few months later.

That particular meeting took place in the head office of AL located not far from Raj Bhavan in Chennai. As it turned out, he wrote saying he was officially no longer as closely related to their buses as before, and that he would arrange for my group to meet the concerned person. It was pouring cats and dogs that morning and I had taken care to leave sufficiently early. I was waiting in their (very accessible) lobby, waiting for two of my friends to also come. As luck would have it, Seshasyee walked in just as I was waiting in the lobby. He greeted me warmly and said he would try and make it a point to at least briefly drop in on our meeting.

When Vaishnavi and Amba came along and we went up, we were received most cordially by Mr. Saharia (Exec. Dir. Mkting at AL) and Mr. Rajesh (in charge of the buses there). They answered many of our questions regarding `low-floor' buses, thier economic feasibility, etc. When we left after a very cordially conducted meeting of a few hours, Mr.  Rajesh promised to send us pertinent literature as well as offered to take us to their Technical Centre a few miles from the city where we could examine things first-hand. As our meeting was nearing its end, they made a call to Seshasayee to inform him as such (since he had apparently asked them to do so). And sure enough, he came down, quickly got the gist of what had transpired thus far, and made some really innovative suggestions, promised to give any other help we may desire, and then dashed off to other needs clamouring for his attention.

A few days later, Mr. Rajesh was true to his word and sent the material we had asked for. I, in turn, asked him when we could go check out their Technical Centre and he put the ball back in my court by asking me when we would like to go. I asked for some time to contact our (scattered) DRA team and get individual responses as to a suitable time.  When we finally got our act together and informed the AL people of the dates suitable for us, he sensibly asked me how many people would go on this trip. Several phone calls and e-mails later, it was decided that they would arrange suitable modes of transportation to transport our team of 5-8 people plus 3-4 wheel-chairs.

They sent their `fun-bus' (along with an air-conditioned car, which was not really needed and sent back) to collect our team from Vidya Sagar at 9 am on the agreed date. I got to Vidya Sagar at 8.45, while the bus came 5 minutes later. The bus had a sort of lift which a very polite and friendly bus-driver operated, and all present, with some four different kinds of wheel-chairs, got into the bus without any mishap. I learnt from one of my colleagues, on the long bus-ride, that Ashok Leylands apparently mkes its bus available for such usage to anybody who asks for it provided only that they pay the driver (what Indians call his `bata' or) per diem expenses).

When we finally got to our destination, we were spared the high security regimen that has to be undergone by anyone entering the premises, and were driven to where we could access the building via the ramps that are as ubiquitous in the AL buildings we saw as life-size  pictures of Mahendra Singh Dhoni (presumaably their brand ambassador), both of which did much to heighten the general feeling of being welcome. To top it off, there were displays on monitors `welcoming Mr. Sunder and his team'. And not only did they make various presentations as well as take us down to where they had their later models of `kneeling buses' etc., they even served all of us lunch in a special room of their canteen, during which our discussions continued and the senior officers present made promises to implement various suggestions we had made regarding the gradient of the ramps in their buses, etc.

At the end of the day, one had a satisfactory feeling of having seen genuine corporate social responsibility in action!

Friday, 18 October 2013

Romania has a lot to teach us!


The Indian Government, courts, etc., have mastered the art of appearing to do good things, but in fact doing nothing. For instance:

                                 **********

The apex court directed the authorities to compile the number of vacancies in all their departments to give jobs to disabled persons under three per cent reserved quota within three months.

The bench said it is an "alarming reality" that disabled persons are not getting jobs because of various social barriers forcing them to live life in poverty and negligence.

It said the goverment has "categorical obligation" to protect the right of disabled persons and passed a slew of directions for providing jobs to the differently-abled.

                                **********

On the other hand, something called the RPD (Reservation to the Persons with Disabilities) act says:

*32. Identification of posts which can be reserved for persons with
disabilities. -* Appropriate Governments shall -

   1. identify posts, in the establishments, which can be reserved for the
   persons with disability;
   2. at periodical intervals not exceeding three years, review the list of
   posts identified and up-date the list taking into consideration the
   developments in technology.

*33. Reservation of Posts - *Every appropriate Government shall appoint in
every establishment such percentage of vacancies not less than three per
cent. for persons or class of persons with disability of which one per
cent. each shall be reserved for persons suffering from-

   1. blindness or low vision;
   2. hearing impairment;
   3. locomotor disability or cerebral palsy, in the posts identified for
   each disability:

   Provided that the appropriate Government may, having regard to the type
   of work carried on in any department or establishment, by notification
   subject to such conditions, if any, as may be specified in such
   notification, exempt any establishment from the provisions of this section.

                       **********

And the courts have been arguing ever since as to whether the 3% reservation refers to the existing body of all available vacancies for posts or only to those posts that the Government, in its wisdom, has identified as suitable posts for people with precisely the three kinds of disabilities which they have identified - by what wisdom, one wonders - as being worthy beneficiaries of their reservation policies. (The reason, for instance, that underlies the clubbing into one, of the two kinds of disability in class 3, is beyond my feeble intellect!)  Thus, if there are 1000 vacancies, of which only 200 posts have been identified as posts that can be filled with PwD, the argument is whether, for instance, a person with hearing impairment can hope to get one of the 10 or the 2 jobs reserved for her kind of disability!

                     **********

Romania, in contrast, and inspite of being much poorer than India, has two impressive arrows in her quiver, one of which has taught me a lot, and the other should teach our administrators a lot:


  1. She has produced an incredibly large number of people doing state-of-the-art work in Operator Algebras (my area of specialisation in mathematics).
  2. (According to a cousin of mine who has been working for some years in Romania) she follows the rule that "employers must employ one disabled person for every 22 employees or must pay to the dedicated fund the mean salary of one employee for every 22 employed. Also public transport is disabled friendly".


Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Public servants or masters of the public?



How is this for a classic case of deflecting your work to other people for whom you are supposed to be doing the work? One of the people in my group of disability activists sent this mail to all members of the group:

During a conversation with the Chennai DDRO (district disability rehab officer), she asked us to provide a list of govt buildings in chennai that is very frequently used by PWDs, so that she would work on making them accessible in the first phase. She said she would look into the accessible features of all other Govt buildings in second phase and all public building as third phase. It sounded sensible to me.

Could you all suggest the govt buildings that PWDs frequently use in Chennai so that we could collate and come up with a list that could be handed over to DDRO.

I totally disagree with my colleague's finding this `sensible'. We all know how bureaucrats treat random disabled people who walk/wheel/crawl into their office and ask inconvenient questions. On the other hand, if the secretary of a senior officer with an impressive title like DDRO, calls somebody like the Postmaster of a local Post Office, or the manager of a local branch of a nationalised bank, and says that the details to specific questions addressing the accessability of their post office/bank have to urgently be made available to the DDRO in 48 hours vide GO 248/17/10/13 subsection (vii)(a), we can make a good guess as to the reaction!

Is it not the JOB of this DDRO to find out which govt. buildings need to be periodically visited by PwD, and make a serious study of accessibility features such as ramps, elevators, braille markings at judicious places, etc., etc - rather than asking a handicapped person to possibly crawl up steps, find out the usability of toilet facilities, etc. 

As somebody recently said, disabled people should brand themselves as a disadvantaged minority and demand of these government officials to put their money where their mouth is before hoping to be voted into power in the next elections. We must demand implementation of many of our rights that have been enacted in our law books rather than be the silly nice guys we are, attempting entreaties, pleas and reason with a bureaucracy which moves only when there is a pot of gold at the end of it all! Or as the Americans would say in their colourful way, the only way to get anywhere is through some serious kick-ass!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Mr. B.


My last post was about how some senior official of the UN promised all sorts of rosy future prospects for people with disability (PwD), while the ground reality that I could see in India was that several groups of optimistic people, who spent most waking moments trying to make the future better for PwD, kept running into the unyielding wall of mindless and bloody minded bureaucrats, who would not take a single decision about anything, when the buck could easily be passed elsewhere!

One such group of optimists (whose group I join in their periodic jousts with bureaucracy when I can get time away from the job I am paid to do - which is teaching post-graduate students, or trying to prove erudite theorems in my chosen area of specialisation in mathematics) had been trying for a while to tackle some of the many problems that PwD have with matters related to banking. Finally they managed to get an appointment with a senior officer (in Chennai) of the Reserve Bank of India, and the usual email went to all members of our group asking who would be willing and able to join in the hopeful expedition to RBI. It so happened that they had been given an appointment for precisely thr time when my class met, so I apologetically begged off. So finally only some three people went to see this RBI big shot, whom I will simply refer to as Mr. B (which you could think of as representing banker, bureaucrat, or any other appropriate favourite B-word of yours.

Within a couple of hours of the time of the appointment with Mr. B, one of the three crusaders dashed off the following crestfallenly drafted `minutes' of the meeting, for the consumption of all members of our group, which I reproduce verbatim but for substituting Mr. B for every occurrence of the B's name:


We provided a letter to him outlining our points and grievances, I have attached the same to this email. The minutes of the meeting are as follows:

1. With regard to the points regarding the access of banking facilities to
persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, Mr. B. stated that as it was a policy issue, it had to be dealt with at the head office level. He stated that the Regional Office had in fact sent a communication to the Head Office regarding the issue of the guardianship requirement. Smitha asked for the communication from the Regional Office to the Head Office, but Mr. B. expressed his regret that he could not share the same.

2. With regard to the compliance of Banks with the Master Circular of the RBI on Customer Service, more particularly points 9, 10 and 11 of the same, Mr. B. said that the RBI is facilitating an ongoing process of sensitization of Bank Officials to the needs of persons with disabilities. When we asked for the details of the same, we were assured that there was a process, however the details were not given to us.

3. When asked if Banks could be ordered to conduct disability audits, Mr. B. declined and said that this was not within the powers of the RBI Regional Office and such requests had to be escalated to the Head Office.

4. When asked if DRA could visit the accessible Banks and ATMs which list was provided to us by his office, Mr. B. declined and said that the RBI could not authorize any private entity to conduct audits of this nature. He said that this matter was best taken up with the Indian Banks Association, or with individual banks themselves.

5. When asked for the procedure with regard to individual complaints, Mr. B. advised us that individual complaints were best taken up with the Banks themselves through their redressal mechanism. In case that failed, the office of the Ombudsman could be approached.

6. With regard to the request to participate in sensitization programmes and for the RBI to organize consultations in association with persons with disabilities, Mr. B. said that he was not authorized to do this at the regional level and that the matter would have to be escalated to the Head Office.


By a strange coincidence, I had a brilliant and free-thinking engineer uncle whom we used to refer to as Herr B because of his love for German efficiency as contrasted with his hatred for `bloody-minded Indian bureaucrats' such as our `Mr. B.' whose breed he would have feelingly referred to as untermenschen.





Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Words, words, words....


There is a song in My Fair Lady which goes

Words, words, words.
I get words all day through,
First from him, now from you...

That is what the following statement by the UN Secretary-General at the High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on Disability and Development on New York, 23 September 2013 reminds me of! I, and at least twenty groups of `disability avtivists' have been spending most of our living moments toiling towards achieving some of the inclusivity spoken of below by talking to unsympathetic government officials (for the most part), and I see zero proof of any of that having any effect. Now see what the UN Secretary-General has to say - and imgine how soothing it would be to an amputee without legs living in Amritsar, for instance! (Don't get me wrong; I also have been a fan of Stevie Wonder ever since Boogie on Reggae Woman.)



This is the most important period of the year at the United Nations.

Leaders from around the globe are gathering to focus on peace and security, development and human rights.

I believe there is no better way to begin this momentous week than with this historic High-level Meeting.

I want to extend my warmest welcome to all of you -- especially persons with disabilities and their representative organizations.  Thank you for bringing your strength and energy.

Together, we are here to break barriers and open doors.

We are here to forge the way forward and build a disability-inclusive development agenda towards 2015 and beyond.

Disability is part of the human condition; almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in life.

More than 1 billion persons live with some form of disability.  Eighty percent are of working age; 80 per cent live in developing countries. Yet far too many people with disabilities live in poverty.

Too many suffer from social exclusion. Too many are denied access to education, employment, health care, and social and legal support systems.

Women and girls with disabilities often experience double discrimination – and so we must emphasize the gender dimensions of a disability-inclusive development agenda.

All of us suffer when communities are divided; just as all of us benefit when communities are united.

The International Labour Organization found that excluding persons with disabilities from the labour market in some low- and middle-income countries costs economies as much as 7 per cent of Gross Domestic Product.

We must remove barriers to equality of opportunity so that all people can be free from poverty and discrimination.

Let us proclaim in the loudest voice possible: Disability is not inability.

As I said in my report A Life of Dignity for All, persons with disabilities are integral to our forward march towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals and shaping the post-2015 agenda.

The landmark Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a powerful tool for inclusive development.

I urge all countries to ratify it without delay.

I know you agree with me and Stevie Wonder -- we need it signed, sealed and delivered!

And we need more.

We must further strengthen the international normative framework on disability and development.

We must build capacity and improve data and statistics on persons with disabilities.

We must act now to remove barriers to access to physical environments, transportation and information and communications.

And we must not only lift the physical barriers – but also the barriers in attitudes that fuel stigma and discrimination.

You are here to do more than change laws or policies or regulations.

Ultimately, you are here to make sure every member of the human family has a chance to live their lives fully.

I think of the director of a programme for special needs children in Haiti who said “you should see the children’s faces when they put on their uniforms—money couldn’t buy the feeling of happiness.”

I think of the young football players I met in Sierra Leone a few years
ago.  Their limbs had been amputated during the war. And yet, there they were, playing soccer.  To my eyes, they were even better than the World Cup soccer players.

I think of the Syrian mother in a refugee camp who finally received a wheelchair for her daughter with disabilities.  She said “Now we can take her to see the doctor…now we can take her out.  She has a right to see the sun.”

Everyone has the right to  … to score their own goals … to see the sun … and expand their horizons.

That is why you are here.  That is your message and mission.

I am proud to be at your side.

Together, let us turn a new page in the history of the United Nations by giving full meaning to the outcome document of this meeting.

Let us work together so everyone, everywhere has the chance to live their dreams and use the gifts that they have been given.

Let us advance disability-inclusive development, inspire change on the ground and ensure a life of dignity for all.

I thank you.


Sometimes, I go through these bouts of frustration and feel like screaming to our law-makers: Why don't you stop talking, and instead put your money where your mouth is, and enforce all the high-faluting laws you have passed decades ago?

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Just another way we are sidelined


Before long, our country is again going to undergo our caricature of democracy by going to the polls yet again. (The fact that we have to make the important decision of whether we prefer ineffective corruptness or a scarily macho version of Hindu fundamentlism is only going to surface in this piece insofar as to undeline point that surely our (at least) 30 million disabled people should have a say in which extreme they would find less intolerable.)

Let me narrate my experience of how I voted in the last elections. The local polling booth is quite close to my home, but getting there was another matter. We started off in our car, but it soon became clear that the crowds and the parked vehicles would make it necessary for me to walk far more than I could. So my driver suggested that we go back home and return with me on the pillion of his bike; and it was thus possible for him to ride all the way into the school where the polling booth was after doing some smooth talking to some cops he knew. In fact, one policeman even escorted me to the top of the line, and I successfully managed to exercise my franchise. And all this was possible because of my having a car and driver, in fact one with useful connections and a bike he could take me on. I get this red carpet treatment because of the advantaged section of society I find myself in. What about a huge majority of PwD (people with disability) who have the further handicap of being poor, and can often travel anywhere only when physically carried by a relative or friend?

Unfortunately PwD's are not seen as a vote bank. I think we should try to use our minority status in a way that can help us. Mr. Modi and Mr. Gandhi, if you are listening: I can assure you that if your party takes ramps, accessibility in buses, metros, etc., as a serious issue and actually do something about it, you can certainly count on my vote, and, I am sure, also those of a sizeable proportion of the at least 30 million PwD (not a small number!) I referred to earlier - unless of course you are convicted for grand theft or murder or some such grave felony by the time the next election rolls around.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Is there any hope for us ?


My last post was about the heart-warming story of a black kid born in a small town in South Carolina who had been born without either arm, but who grew up like `just another kid', rode around on a specially designed bicycle, then had a regular education as an engineer, bought the car of his dreams, did various necessary modifications, and now drives himself to where he works as an engineer in one of the better racing car outfits, and works by using a computer for all his designs which he does by operating mouse as well as keyboard with his feet. And I concluded that post with the rueful admission that such a success story could only occur in the US and the rhetorical question as to when/whether our society would ever liberate ourselves from our fatalistic shackles and preconceived biases to reach that attitude of inclusivity and eagerness to encourage a spirited young person to overcome adversity and lead an independent and productive life.

In this post, I provide a typical example of such shackles and biases which drives me to the sense of frustration that drives one to write a sentence such as the last one. On the one hand, our courts enacted the People with Disabilities Act in 1995 which promises that

The appropriate Governments and the local authorities shall, within the limits of their economic capacity and development, provide for:

ramps in public building;
adaptation of toilets for wheel chair users;
braille symbols and auditory signals in elevators or lifts;
ramps in hospitals, primary health centres and other medical care and rehabilitation institutions.


On the other hand, The Hindu carried a news item on the travails of a young woman who has been twice refused admission by the University of Madras to a distance education programme leading to an M.Sc Counseling Psychology. And here are the wondrous reasons given for this refusal:
  • The woman is confined to a wheelchair owing to an accident having rendered her a quadriplegic for the past 15 years.
  • The University officials believe she will be unable to attend the contact classes on the thid floor, and that there was no facility for disabled people to attend them.
Talk of brazen shamelessness. First you violate an 18-year-old law by not providing ramps in a building which has, by The Hindu's story, at least three floors. Then you possibly violate another law on the grounds of discrimintion by refusing a disabled person admission because you have already violated the PwD Act of 1995.


I feel particularly miffed because I have been writing, for a litle more than two years now on the issues of accessibility and barrier-free environments, with a personal bias to addressing these problems in educational institutions; and I read of this flagrant violation in the University of my own city!


Surely even a not very smart lawyer must be able to sue the pants off the officials of the University. Any takers? Please!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

A must-see for all our educators, decision-makers regarding PwD,...


I recently saw the most stimulating and eye-opening video which, I am convinced is something that should be shown to all school teachers, as well as ministers and secretaries in our government who are supposed to represent the interests of people with disabilities (PwD). This short video, less than 8 minutes long, has so many lessons to convey, hence the tall claims made above. Unfortunately this video does not seem to have a usable link, and seems to be view-able only on facebook.

This video is about the life that was fashioned for himself, with the help of fantastic parents, by this son born to a black couple in a small town in South Carolina. Most people would think the child was already dealt a not very favourable set of circumstances to live in. In addition, this child was born without arms! 

An aside: I have not been politically correct, in using `black' as against `African-American', which seems to be the currently accepted term. I should imagine a people with such a wonderful colour, complexion and culture would want to proudly flaunt the use of the adjective `black'!

The atitude of the parents is absolutely enlightened and awesome. They see their beautiful child and swear that he will have the life of a perfectly normal child, `just like any other kid'. And enabling this to happen involves thinling `out of the box'  to create ad-hoc solutions to innumerable situations – like making it possible for the kid to open and use the refrigerator or microwave, using a spoon to eat, all by himself without needing anybody's help – and endowing the child with the grit, desire and determination to master the manoeuvers necessary to be independent.

The video goes on to show how he fashions a bicycle that he can ride. The highpoint of the video is when it comes to his desire to drive a car. His `I will brook no silly objection' attitude is never clearer than when he describes how people tell him to take a bus and his response clearly implies `why should I? I want to drive.' He puts on the helmet with visor, crawls under the car and operates a blow torch with his feet to make the necessary amendments to the car.

And then you see him driving his car (after using his chin to open the car, his mouth to put on his safety belt, and his feet to start the car) using his feet on specially crafted discs to steer the car. As he drives, you hear him say "people said `you can't live by yourself', `you can't go to school and graduate',  `you can't get a job and support yourself' "; and he goes on to say `I don't really listen too much to people when they say I can't do something; there's not a whole lot that is going to stand in my way'. When he gets to his work-place, where he has been working for more than eight years as an engineer with a crack Nasscar racing team, you see him removing his shoes so that his feet are free to manipulate the mouse and keyboard of the computer. (His boss says he knew when he saw his dossier that he wanted to hire Richard Parker; he admits he was initially curious about how Richard would manage, and later says matter-of-fact-ly that some people write with their right hand, others with their left hand, and Richard with his feet.)

What will it take to get our people to realise the importance of enabling such obviously very talented and determined people to achieve their potential? The mindset that is aware of the importance of not being fatalistic, and creating an environment which will not hinder and handicap people! Whatever negative things people may say about America, I can think of no other country where such a story could have been witnessed. 

Sunday, 1 September 2013

As if we don't face enough problems...

What is it about being in some `position of power' that makes people feel they should create rules which do not exist, when they are confronted with people with disabilities (PWD) : Here are a few samples:

  • My pet examples stem from my interactions from airline staff when faced with my desire to check my motorised (battery-operated) wheelchair:
  1. Sorry sir, but you have to pay Rs, 4500 (or some such outrageous figure) for `excess baggage'; (the problem gets resolved only when I raise my voice in argument and a senior person from the airline, who knows that the rules guarantee free carriage of assistive devices intervenes and lets me proceed).
  2. We have to disassemble the battery (even if it has dry cells); so can you please open it and show us. (Needless to say, it takes several minutes of discussion before the message can be got across that one cannot `open' this battery and then reuse it! This invariably results in my getting hotter and hotter under the collar: which is not quite what my doctor would recommend for what my physical condition needs.)
  • This example is what triggered this post. There is this amazing woman (*) who, after some moronic doctor once (many years ago) gave her only a year to live, learnt somewhere that hydrotherapy would do wonders for her. As a result, she started swimming and even rose to the level of a former paralympic swimming champion. Recently, since her usual swimming pool was unavailable for some reason, her father went to enquire about a pool close to her home – and he was at first informed by the person working there that the pool could not be used by disabled people. This woman kept going for many days to reason with the junior employee, finally managing to get the phone number of one of the bosses. When this boss was finally contacted after 3 or 4 futile attempts, the boss asked her to try again as the junior had been appropriately advised. The junior employee this time asked an intermediary boss who advised rejection of the request. Finally it took a threat to approach senior Government Officials to get the powers that be to relent and say `come back tomorrow with a Doctor's certificate as well as the Championship certificate!' Surely all these ad hoc `rules' cannot be written anywhere, and are just hurdles conjured by a person unable or not desiring to take a decision in a `different' situation!
(*) You should see her blog

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Further commissions and omissions of our democracy




(a)

On a muggy monsoon evening in a tiny village in Haryana, 16-year-old Manju, her voice steady and clear, recounts the story of the day she was raped. It is a story that in its horrifying essentials can be heard in villages across the state, across, for that matter, the country. On 6 August 2012, Manju, a Dalit from Kalsi village in Karnal district, was waylaid on her way to school. Two men, Ajay and Krishen, from the upper-caste Rod community, allegedly forced her into their car and took turns to rape her. Warning her to hold her tongue, they dumped her near her school.

It took Manju two weeks to admit to her mother that she had been raped. Her mother already knew. A neighbour implicated in the crime allegedly gloated about her role in the rape, gloated about Manju’s lost honour. Manju’s mother was steadfast in her support for her daughter. Accounts differ about who said what but the upshot is that less than a month after the gangrape, Manju’s mother disappeared.

On 3 September, her body was found in a ditch next to a small canal that runs by the village. Like her daughter, she too had been gangraped. Her murderers, allegedly her daughter’s rapists, had thrown acid on her and strangled her with her own chunni.


(b)

Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry. Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993.

The aim of this Act is to ensure that no person shall-
(a) engage in or employ for or permit to be engaged in or employed for any other person for manually carrying human excreta; or
(b) construct or maintain a dry latrine.

But the Act leaves the implementation up to individual states and leaves all kinds of loopholes by virtue of which this inhuman practice continues today – with the Indian railways being one of the biggest offenders.

(c)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed serious concern at the inordinate delay in Parliament passing the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill. A Bench of Justices H.L. Datu and Ranjan Gogoi shared the concern of counsel Santosh Paul and counsel Meera Mathew, appearing for A. Narayanan, and told Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati: “We are very much concerned about this issue.”
The Bench said: “they [manual scavengers] are marginalised and Parliament needs to take adequate steps to pass the Bill. It had been over a year and half that the Additional Solicitor-General has been promising to do something. We need a proper reply.”
                                                     - The Hindu January 8, 2013, New Delhi

And yet....

`Manhole' deaths never seem to end
A civic sanitary worker, Gangadhar, died inside a sewer line, after getting into it through a manhole on Tilak Road here on Friday.
Though the exact cause of death will be known once the post mortem report is out, initial indications are that that he died of suffocation as he inhaled poisonous gases inside the sewer line. The police and civic workers retrieved the body after strenuous efforts for over an hour.

                                                     - The Hindu, June 22, 2013, Thirupathi,


Our collective crime and shame is that it is always the Dalits whom our people subject to the special violence/indignities such as (a)-(c). 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

In dependence – a time to introspect


14th August 1947:

At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.

It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.

           -  Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (from the ramparts of Red Fort)


1995:

The People with Disabilities (PWD) Act is enshrined in our law books and promises all sorts of wonderful things – on paper.

2006:

It will be ensured that every child with disability has access to appropriate pre-school, primary and secondary level education by 2020.

           -  National Policy for Persons with Disabilities

On the other hand .......

August 6, 2001:

In a horrific incident at Erwadi, near Ramanathapuram, 25 people including 11 women were charred to death. A devastating fire broke out at 5 am, in the thatched hostel housing them. Out of the 46 hostel inmates, 40 were chained to their beds. They kept screaming for help but no one came to their rescue.
The 46 hostel inmates were mentally ill. Erwadi is considered a holy place and has a Dargah. People from various parts of the country brought their loved ones to this place in the belief that the Dargah here had magical powers to cure mental illness. During the course of the 'treatment', these persons with mental illness were frequently caned, whipped and beaten up in the name of 'driving away the evil'. During the day, they were tied to trees with thick ropes. At night, they were tied to their beds with iron chains.

April 20, 2012:

Jeeja Ghosh, an academic waiting in her plane for it to take-off to Pune where she has been invited for a conference, is made to deboard the plane, because the pilot feels she will be a threat to `his passengers' – on account of her cerebral palsy!

July 2013:

Vice-Chancellor of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) plans to shut down the Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre (ISLRTC) for the hearing-impaired.



Conclusion: You couldn't put it better than my friend Rajiv (a wheelchair user and committed `disability activist) said on Facebook today:

30 million Indians live under house arrest in their home-land because being disabled in India could mean:

  • Not leaving your house because pavements are not accessible if you are on crutches, impossible on wheelchairs, and dangerous if you are visually impaired.
  • Oh and if you somehow manage to cross the road, public transport could pose an insurmountable barrier.
  • Only a few lucky children can afford to make their way to an inclusive school.....if it exists.
  • Being barred from voting. Or starting a bank account. Or marrying. Or making any decision on your own (assuming you had a choice).
  • Not being free to pursue education of your choice or being excluded from jobs because workplaces aren't properly designed.

From what Google and Wikipedia tell me, the populations of Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore together amounted, at the time of the census of 2011, to less than 30 million. I wonder what our new boss of RBI, or any right thinking human being,  would think of the consequences of voluntarily keeping a task-force, the size of Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai put together, under house arrest for 66 years and God knows how many more!