Friday, 15 March 2013

An inveterate soldier

This is a tribute to the never-say-die attitude with which Dr. Satendra Singh has been single-handedly (single-leggedly?) fighting the existing exclusive attitude towards the need (or the lack thereof) of a barrier-free environment to facilitate the mere functioning of people with disabilities in general, and mobility problems in particular. Here is a medical doctor with a mobility problem – whereby climbing stairs, for instance, is a problem he would much rather avoid.

Let me chronologically list various causes he has espoused since I had the pleasure of getting to know him a mere sixteen months ago:

  1. We have all heard of the appalling incident when Jeeja Ghosh's cerebral palsy was interpreted by the pilot of a plane as a potential hazard to the lives of his passengers to such an extent that he found it necessary to have her removed from the plane. But it took Satendra (as I have given myself the liberty of informally calling/referring to him) a bare couple of days to write (see to the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities appealing to him to take suo moto notice of newspaper report and take serious action against the pilot and Spice Jet.
  2. Here's what he has to say about some of his subsequent activities: I was appointed the Coordinator of a defunct, on paper Enabling Unit for students with disabilities. It was June last year. Since then I have tried to do few little things. Sharing with you all the activities of Enabling Unit, UCMS & GTB Hospital. (see here)
  3. He next tried to do something about a ridiculous bit of red tape our bureaucrats throw at us by demanding that in order to be able to avail of certain exemptions/benefits that are available on paper to people with disabilities, such people have to periodically obtain a renewal of disability certificate. (And you can be sure this certificate can be collected only after almost always having to negotiate a walk up to a dingy little office on the second or third floor of a building with no elevator! He sent numerous emails and letters to numerous luminaries in Delhi University, but you can imagine how receptive the authorities have been!
  4. Next, he took on ( see here) the Post Offices asking about the state of accessibility of their offices. Many of the responses he received were total untruths or fabrications of a sick mind. According to a report in the Times of India, the reply of the Indian Post asserted that the Gulmohar Park Post Office was `barrier-free despite the fact that it is located in a basement which can be reached only by going down a flight of stairs due to the absence of a lift or ramp. The truth quotient of the rest of the response was apparently comparable.
  5. His latest salvo seems to have evoked a response with more teeth. He wrote a letter to the chief secretary, Delhi government, to take concrete and time-bound steps for enforcing accessibility standards and guidelines with utmost strictness, making budgetary provisions in each department for the purpose of providing barrier-free access to persons with disabilities, and undertake access audit and implementing recommendations of the access audit reports. And the good news is: The office of the chief commissioner for persons with disabilities has asked Medical Council of India (MCI) to issue directions for barrier-free access of disabled people at all colleges and hospitals. It has also asked MCI to inform the court about the action taken within 30 days of getting the letter.

And this is what he wrote to me in a recent email:

The one month time limit is already over. MCI instructions apply to all
medical colleges and hospitals in India (private as well as public). If
access audits are made mandatory by MCI than it will bring a major
revolution in terms of accessible health care in India. Overnight people
construct new buildings to satisfy MCI and get recognition. This move has
the potential to create huge ripple effect. Do support me and pressurize MCI.

Although he has an inflated impression of my capabilities, what I can do is to promise to try and help him by at least asking the rest of us who are interested in the causes that Satendra has been espousing dauntlessly, in the face of callous disregard to the word of the law, to start some kind of more visible protest/campaign to force the government to stop paying lip service to the alleged law of the land and to put its money where its mouth is.  


  1. A big ‘like’ for this info post. We’re following you with interest :)

    Let me share how our organization goes about creating accessible public spaces. Two of our volunteers were going past Marine Drive in Bombay and saw pavement laying and construction happening. They got down and asked. Big renovations were underway. So they went to Gulzar sa’ab, who called up the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority and convinced them that it should be made accessible for people with disabilities and that by doing so the city of Mumbai would be setting a model for the rest of the country to follow.

    So the MMRDA worked with Arushi and the new-look Marine Drive with its promenade and fountains, greenery and street furniture was designed keeping in mind the needs of persons with disabilities. A pathway for blind and wheelchair users; a disabled-friendly three kilometer stretch along the waterfront; ramps for entry and exit; and signboards placed above head level are the significant alterations done.

    It is not always apathy or insensitivity but lack of awareness. People without disabilities need hand-holding too :)

    1. On a recent visit to Mumbai, I told this friend of mine I wanted to revisit Marine Drive, and I was very impressed with the ramp to access the pavement at the southern end (opposite NCPA). Good job. I agree a lot of our problems arise mainly because people don't try to see the world from different eyes; and that sensitising people to the existence of these problems is half the battle. (Very rarely does one see somebody who will deliberately refuse to help or sill harm a disabled person - although there do apparently exist the occasional pervert like the one who was reported in yesterday's paper to have given a drink laced with a sedative and then raped her mentally ill daughter!)

    2. yay!! I'm so glad to hear that, Professor :)

  2. Thanks Professor Sunder for this surprising post. Just one small addition to the list above. Bank of Baroda has constructed a ramp outside their ATM in my campus immediately after I filed complaint to CCPD. Things do happen, provided we make noise and I learnt it via your inaugural post in Timed of India :-)

    Dr Satendra Singh
    Single-legged (I'll take that) rebel at work :-)

    1. The last sentence in the italicised paragraph at the end of the post will show you why this post should not be surprising. Anyway, please keep up the good fight. This blog's aim is to encourage more people to emulate your inspiring example.