Saturday, 31 May 2014

We need your help, Mr. Modi

This is in the manner of an open letter to Mr. Modi who has swept into power with such impressive support that it appears tht he can do anything he wishes. Sir, I hope to convince you of the desirability of implementing many of my fond hopes, which I have been repeatedly presenting to Government officials in the past, with precious little to show for it.

Basically I want persons with disabilities (PWD, henceforth) to be given a chance to contribute what they can to society, with independence and dignity. For example, I can basically go nowhere without a wheelchair, but I have been blessed to work in an institute with a remarkably sensitive administration which has seen the value of rendering itself accessible to my wheelchair, so I can continue to contribute as effectively as I did before having become a victim of multiple sclerosis; my work has been recognised by such national awards as the S.S. Bhatnagar Award for Mathematics, and Fellowship of all three national science academies. I am saying this just to make the point that surely there are many more people like me.

I wish to appeal to you as someone with the economic sense of not confining 5% of our people to their homes just because of their misfortune in being disabled. Please recognise that it is our environment which disables them.  As against the dubious figure (even less than 3%)  given by the latest census exercise of our country, quite a bit more than 5% of our citizens are sure to have some manner of disability. Surely such a large number of people must contain a non-trivial collection of people who can and will contribute significantly to the growth/betterment of our country if they were not constrained by a society riddled with hurdles and barriers to their being able to even get out of their homes. For this to happen, certain steps must be taken:
  1. Buses, trains, metros, planes,..., in short, all forms of public transportation must be modified/re-designed so that a PWD can participate fully in all facets of life, effectively, independently, and be able to lead a fruitful life in dignity just like any other citizen.
  2. All buildings/utilities must be forced to be barrier-free and inclusive for ALL people; this means (i) where there are steps, there should also be ramps whose gradients are not so steep as to be unusable by a person on a wheelchair; (ii) all ramps and steps must be equipped with handrails, preferably on both sides; (iii) there must be elevators in buidings which have more than just the ground floor; (iv) there must be signs in braille; (v) all buses/trains/elevators should have announcements so the visibly impaired know when a certain stop/floor has been reached.
  3. People must be sensitised to observe rules such as stopping at red lights, and being a little more considerate towards PWD in small but important ways, such as: (i) buses should stop only at bus stops, and NOT for only a few seconds some 50 ft. past the bus stop, (ii) rather than rushing to be first and pushing all else out of the way, wait and give priority to the aged, the infirm,  children and PWD.
  4. Please do not give away our country to the automobile user; stop the current tendency to have long stretches of divided highway which are impossible to cross by one on foot or in a wheelchair. Stop our tendency to design cities where growth or improvement is measured only by miles of roads built, with no consideration of the number of fatal accidents. (A majority of the fatalities are pedestrians, largely elderly and infirm - not to mention poor people sleeping on the pavements who are run over by rich people diving their fancy cars in a state of inebriation.)
  5. Finally, please ensure passage in Parliament of a suitably re-drafted version of a `Rights for Persons with Disbilities Bill' that was sent to a Standing Committee after the last Government was stalled in its efforts to hurriedly pass it in February by a Congress Party in its dying days. This `stalling' was a result of many right thinking people who used whatever means were available - including sympathetic support from such people as Arun Jaitley (BJP), Kanimozhi (DMK) and Sitaram Yechury (CPI(M)). Please do not make the mistake made by the UPA of only consulting one or two disability activists in Delhi, who do not necessarily always see things the same way as others in the field (from all over India) do!

Please use the power given to you, with great hopes, by a large number of people, to progress in the direction that would be lauded by arguably the greatest Indian from Gujarat, namely the Mahatma fondly called the Father of the Nation.

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