Saturday, 17 August 2013

Further commissions and omissions of our democracy


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.


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.


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)


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


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!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Total conversion

Not too long ago, I was adamant that I would not join Facebook and other such sites, and cited fear of loss of privacy as the reason. A little less long ago, Shefali, a reader of my blog who used to comment sympathetically on many of my posts, convinced me that the best way to get the message across was facebook + blog. She helped create an account for me and got me started, and it has not taken me long to discover that Shefali knew what she was talking about.

Here are few reasons for my complete turnaround from anti-fb to pro-fb:

  1. The recent (Snowden-related) furore in the US has convinced me that any fond imaginings of `one's privacy' are delusions of one who does not notice how all such privacy evaporated with the onset of personal computers and mobile phones. Within seconds, people can – if they so desire - pinpoint where you are and what you are doing!

  1. Recently, a friend of mine `shared' a post in my blog on facebook, and on the next day my blog probably saw the highest number of `hits' ever.

  1. Today I received an email saying You shared your email with Sustainable Mobility and they've suggested you like their page on Facebook; and I most certainly do. (The organisation Samarthyam (see who is behind this `Sustainable Mobility' was one of the first organisations I learnt of who was seriously into making the environment accessible and barrier-free; and they are clearly still doing a great job. Hats off, Anjlee!)

And this is not the first time I have been put in touch with, or got to hear of, attempts being made in the same direction as that of my blog and related efforts.

So, thank you Shefali for doing me this favour. (Incidentally, Shefali herself does fantastic work with an organisation called Aarushi; the reader who has never heard of it would be well-advised look up Aarushi on the internet! (S)he has a heart-warming treat in store.)

Monday, 5 August 2013

The British Airways experience

If I can crib about drawbacks in facilities for PWD in the US and Canada (and of course, India), then I shouldn't leave out the people who tried to colonise almost all of the above. I was scheduled to fly British Air, with a two hour stop in London between the Toronto-London and London-Chennai legs of the looong return flight.

I was dreading the Heathrow experience and as justification, to my friends, of this dread I could only mention the general air of confusion and inefficiency that has been the common denominator of all my prior visits to it. Let me try to put down on paper a rough approximation of how this dread was vindicated.

To start with, the plane did not fly to what we in India call an aerobridge; instead, we halted on the tarmac, where a bus and staircase was waiting. So I walk down to the waiting bus `with a little help from my friends' and am informed that there will be a wheelchair waiting for me when I get off the bus. I suppose that was the hope. When we got there, there was no sight of a wheelchair. An Indian BA official there politely and diffidently asked me if I could please walk just a little more, which translated to about a 50m walk till we got to an elevator. That, fortunately, was almost the end of my forced exercise for the morning, because that's when we were met by the driver of a buggy with a no-nonsense Anthony-Quinn-look-alike who made no attempts to conceal his opinion of his organisation's mess-up and consequent ordeal I had been subjected to. He eventually drove the buggy into a large elevator which then took us to Level -4, meaning deep under the tarmac, and on getting out of the elevator, we must have driven what felt like about 1.5 km, then back up a similar elevator into the more peopled higher parts of the airport, where he left us at the next `pick-up point' where we spent a pleasant ten minutes or so, discussing the charms of Scotland with a lady who was from there, before another buggy came and took us to the desired gate almost an hour before boarding time. 

Then I had the bright idea of trying to use the available time for my morning ablutions. The problem was that I had been deposited at a spot from which I would need to walk about 50 m. to go to a toilet and my weary limbs would have none of it. Just then, almost as if by divine providence, a BA attendant (clearly Indian by appearance and accent). When he was requested to take me, he agreed and offered to wait for me to come out. As soon as I went in, I tried, unsuccessfully due to the number of plastic things which had to be opened, to brush my teeth with the little packet they give all fliers along with the earphones at the start of the flight. At this point, I noticed that my wheelchair attendant had come in and was glaring at me. When I asked him if he would help me open that tooth-paste - which was beyond my clumsy fingers - he blew up. `I thought you wanted to use the toilet; you can brush your teeth in the plane', and thus chastised, I was taken back to the gate. As we neared the gate, we heard them giving the boarding call and my man immediately perked up with `I'll take you to the plane; you have a good flight' this translating in any language to `time for you to tip me adequately'! I got into the plane, tipped him and looked forward to returning home, to `known devils'.

I got to thanking: what would I have done if my disability was more severe so that I couldn't even get out of the chair?