Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Just as if we had never done this before

For several months now, members of my group have been asked to perform audits of the `model roads' where the Chennai Corporation has been trying to render the pavements usable fo pedestrians: Loyola College Road, Besant Nagar 2nd Main Road, Conran Smith Road, Police Commissioner's Office Road, Pantheon Road, SIET College Road, ... Of late, we have been concentrating on this last road, officially called K.B. Dasan Road. We had a big slogan-shouting and human chain event on it on December 3rd, the World Disabled Day. And we told people there we will come again periodically, especially including the 3rd of the next month, etc., to see if all our `sensitising` exercises had borne any fruit at all.

We went there again last week-end, armed with our hand-outs, drafts of model signs indicating that vehicles parked on the pavements would be towed away, etc., people from the Corporation Office located on that road itself and traffic police with loudspeakers trying to announce that pavements are meant for pedestrians and should be cleared. We had even informed friends in the Press so that our efforts would be publicised. And indeed our Press friends did not disappoint, as evidenced by this report next morning in `The Hindu'.

But there the good news ended. The pavements looked exactly the same as they had on December 2nd. Here is a quick run-through of some photographs documenting our experience that morning. As we started moving east from the SIET College gate, we ran into Domino's Pizza with its fleet of two-wheelers blocking the pavement.

And poor Smitha couldn't even get past these mopeds by getting down to the road, risking life and limb at the possible harm from speeding vehicles whizzing by; reason: the omnipresent two-wheeler parked in the way by  yet another inconsiderate driver whose mind must be where the `sun don't shine'.

 By now, about 150 minutes past the time we had agreed on meeting, some traffic police had come and we asked them to follow or come along with us so they could see our problems. The first one was caused by the wiring for the lamp-posts in a bright orange plastic tube that uncompromisingly guarded the pavement.

Then there was this example

to show that there could also be drivers of four-wheelers and bicycles with their minds up in that same dark place. And given the various marginalised sections of Indian cities, there are many who have to set up shop

on the pavements simply because they have very little option.

But where I draw a line is at the not quite-so-marginalised using the pavements as extensions

of their parking lots or show-windows. I will be glad to offer 10 to 1 odds on this being exactly the same scenario you will find a week later at this Ford Service Station or at the Sangeetha restaurant on the opposite side of the road which I did not have the cool to photograph because I was so mad at the attitude of the owners of cars and two-wheelers which were cavalierly parked infront of the restaurant and too intent on giving them a piece of my mind. Nor is it much more comforting when a hospital, which should be concerned with such things as being able to move patients in stretchers or wheelchairs, exhibits this behaviour at which all poor Smitha can do is scratch her head in despair:

Never mind, next month, I'll get enough photographs - including Sangeetha, for sure - and then present our case to the traffic police. I am convinced that with our total lack of civic sense, nothing will change unless people are threatened by police levying hefty fines or towing away their vehicles. With high probability, these same cars and two-wheelers will be continuing in their merry antisocial ways, blocking these same spots!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

A nation of effing rapists

We can proudly boast of being the nation with the highest number of men indulging in unnatural acts of brutal violence. Here is what the Times of India says of the most recent manifestation of this depravity:

Unidentified men raped and brutalized a 28-year-old mentally-challenged woman before killing her at Bahu Akbarpur in Haryana's Rohtak district on Sunday last.

The woman's body was found without key organs on Wednesday along with sticks, stones and condoms stuffed into her private parts three days after she went missing.

The brutality is throwback to the Delhi's Nirbhaya case, which shocked the country and led to radical changes in laws to end crimes against women.

Police said the Rohtak woman's body was decomposing when autopsy was conducted on it at Pandit Bhagwat Dayal Sharma Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (PGIMS) in Rohtak on Thursday.

PGIMS's forensic medicines department head Dr S K Dhatterwal said he has supervised or conducted around 30,000 autopsies, but has never seen such brutality in his 29-year career.

He said two stones were inserted into the slain woman's anus. "Her face was eaten by animals; her lungs and heart were found missing. Also, her skull had fractured and there were injury marks on both her thighs and chest.''

Doctors took five hours to conduct the autopsy. "There was a 16cm long and 4cm wide stick-like article in her vagina. We presume that a longer stick was used and it may have broken inside her. We also found a number of condoms in her vagina," said Dhatterwal.

Police said the woman belonged to Nepal's Vardia district and had been under treatment in Haldwani. She had come to Rohtak a few months back to visit her sister, who works as a domestic help in the city.

A few days before this, the Bangalore newspapers carried a srory of how a man had taken a three year old girl into a shed, raped her and then killed her there before very calmly walking out. There are even blurred photographs showing him leading the unsuspecting and innocent child by the hand, and then walking out alone. Not long before that, Bangalore reported instances of teachers having raped students inside the school premises on several occasions.

In fact, it is a safe bet that if you picked a random paper from a random Indian city, you would be sure to find a story of such bestiality, with varying levels of details of the horror. I have quoted the TOI report verbatim, and talked about the fate of girl children in Bangalore, to convey the scale of desperation and depravity of these monsters: from a mentally ill woman to a defenseless child, they pick their victims from all strata of women.

In just 75 years, the land has ignominously slid from from the zenith of espousing non-violence as a form of freedom fighting to the nadir of laying claim to being a land of bestial effing rapists.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Am I being heard?

A month and a half back, I wrote on my ongoing woes with domestic air travel. Since I had specifically named Jet Airways in that post, I decided to write to their customer care email address and give them a link to my blog-post. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a phone call from a lady in Mumbai asking if there was any way she might be able to help. I told her that I wanted to meet someone senior in the organisation who might be able to give me some piece of paper regarding the entitlements of a person traveling with a personal wheelchair, so that I would not need to go through the same ridiculous objections again and again. As she was in Mumbai and I was in Chennai, she asked somebody in their Chennai office to get in touch with me. When that Chennai contact called me, and I said I wanted to meet as senior a person as possible in Jet Airways, she wanted to know why. When I expressed a desire to carry a piece of paper signed by such an authority as to precisely what were the entitlements of a person with disability traveling with his personal wheelchair, she told me that such a document could not be given, but that I could inform her whenever I planned on flying on their airline.

I flew from Chennai to Bangalore a few days ago on Jet Airways, and was surprised to receive an email from them asking me to tell them about my experience of the flight I had just taken. I thought I might as well put that up on my blog, too! The first false note was struck at check-in when the lady at the counter told us our baggage was overweight - because she included the weight of my wheelchair which had to be checked in. After the same discussion we have had innumerable times at innumerable aiports, we were allowed to conince her that airlines are obliged to transport such assistive devices at no extra cost to the passenger. The next hiccup involved the seats we were allotted. There were two passengers who had needed to be brought in a wheelchair to the craft; and both of us were seated in row 15 - bang in the middle of the plane, so that we had to walk some amount till we could get to our seat. I do not know why this was necessary, since I have been seated in the second row from the back in the past. Is it so hard to have a uniformly applied, and sensitively designed set of practices which would minimise the hardships/inconveniences that persons with disability have to face when they fly?