Saturday, 26 April 2014

I told you so!

A fews days ago, I arrived home a little past midnight some 9 hours after leaving my cousin's place, where I was staying during a few days' visit to Delhi; and went like a good citizen the next morning to exercise my franchise. Almost like a portent of things to come, my wheelchair had - yet again, for the umpteenth time - lost two bushes (which facilitate movement of the seat so that the chair can be folded for easier packing) in transit from Delhi to Chennai! Before we set off, my driver Sekar had very sweetly done a recce on his motor-cycle re the accessibility of the polling booth. He came back and said there was not much of a crowd and that we could go.

So we trooped off to the polling booth, after Sekar convinved several policemen/women on the way that I needed the car to take me up to the booth as I `couldn't walk'. We had taken a manual wheelchair in the vague hope that it might come in useful. But the parked motorcycles that almost covered half the width of the approach roads, and the total absence of pavements made that hope a non-starter. However the police personnel all along the route kindly flagged our car (with its suggestive wheelchair at the back) to within about 20 feeet of the building housing the polling booth.

To access the booth, you could either climb the five or six steps or use the ramp that ran parallel to the steps, attempting to climb the same height at a gradient ofalmost 45 degrees! Sekar pointed out that puhing me up that ramp woul be virtually impossible and that having reached the top, I would anyway have to walk the rest of the way because the approximately 5 foot wide corridor had been split down the middle by wooden poles so as to create an in-line and an out-line. So, as I had expected, I had to hobble all the way on Sekar's arm, only to look at an unappetising list of potential candidates one could vote for and finally vote for NOTA (None of the Above).

What this did convinced me of was (a) my booth, as well as many that my friends with assorted disability had had to go to, was completely inaccessible to one who was strictly wheelchair-bound and could not even hobble the few feet I had had to; (b) many of my visibly impaired friends had also not really been able to exercise a `secret ballot'; and (c) no time should be lost before launching  a systematic campaign - once the new government authorities had settled into their jobs - to set in motion a systematic plan to make the next elections (five years away) a truly inclusive process. This time was a definite improvement over the last one in terms of the courteousness of the authorities; in fact they were all so uniformly friendly and obviously eager to help that I did no want to seem rude and act the little paperazzi and take photographs illustrating the points made above, like the gradient of the ramp and the wooden poles.

Next time, I really hope that things will indeed be better.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Looking down the Barrel

In just about ten days, it will be my turn to cast my ballot in the current elections in India. I have very ambivalent feelings on whether I should even bother. I know it is considered the duty of every right-minded citizen of a country to do his civic duty come elecion day, and go exercise his/her franchise. Here are the reasons for my ambivalence.

I don't really relish the idea  of the mantle of PM passing to any of the realistic candidates for that position, least of all the one considered the front runner. This is a man who is almost universally believed to have deliberately turned the other way and ordered the police forces under his command as CM of his state to ignore and do nothing to stop communalist violence that resulted in death of a large number of Muslims. His latest rants against the ruling Congress party give an indication of how sensitive his administration will be to the need for universal design or barrier-free environments. According to a report in the New Indian Express (April 10th), he has referred to a former wheel-chair bound CM as an `apahij' (meaning cripple) going on to say `he is in a wheelchair..', thereby indicating that such a politician could not be effective. That same report goes on to his comparing the Congress Party leadership to a Bollywood movie wherein the family introduces a beautiful daughter at the time of finalising a marriage proposal and later switches sisters by introducing the one with a disability for the marriage ceremony. This font-runner further goes on to say The country does not want a deaf and handicapped government controlled at the centre. How low can people's insensitivity dip? And this is the man tipped to be our future PM!

The Congress candidate for PM has shown time and again that he is very adept at putting his entire foot in his mouth with his questionable oratory `skills'. The last person in this essentially three-horse race won a local election in Delhi, much to the pleased surprise of many, only to disappoint the hopeful potential future supporters of his party by acting overly hastily and consequently stepping down from his fledgeling career as Delhi CM. His party (called AAP, born just a few months ago) on the other hand has put up a manifesto which explicitly puts down its commitment to the betterment of the rights and lives of our women, as well as to the empowerment of PWD. Unfortunately, AAP is too young a party to hope to make any significant headway on its own this time around.

Finally, my experience of trying to vote last time around, and all the lack of accessibility at the polling booths, does not give me much courage to hope for any improvement in the infra-structural facilities, so my POA is to ask my wife to check out the scene, and then go myself to vote, only if she reports favourably on the state of (in)accessibility of the booth. On the positive side, I will start working soon after the elections, to get the local powers that be to clean up their act. (A disability activist friend of mine, Dr. Satendra Singh, has ben tirelessly hounding the Chief Election Commisioner in Delhi to so clean up their act, and still only reports partial success, with things staying much the same in many places!) I shall strive with like-minded friends, to start this programme right away and hope to have things in place in time for the next elections!