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!

1 comment:

  1. Sunder, if people wish to be called in a certain way, we have to respect that. African-American is something the community prefers (from the interaction I have had), and Black is perceived by some as offensive. They have their reasons, and fairly cogent ones. In any case, it is not for us to impose terminology. Origins vs skin colour has been debated. I am not saying it has been settled. But we don't get to decide. We shouldn't.