Sunday, 16 August 2015

Time again to be reminded: `not for you, Jack'!

Every year, on this day, all India gets together to celebrate its Independence Day. I"m sorry, I should have qualified that to  `all but the many millions of people with disabilities' who are denied the right or ability to be independent by a cussedly stubborn refusal by the powers that be to permit them to lead independent lives in an inclusive society. In fact, after all the census-taking exercises, our demographers are still unable to come up with a precise count of the number of Indian citizens who suffer from disability of some sort. All the Bills or Laws that spout inanities about the rights of these people are not worth the paper they are written on. As I only have first-hand experience of the trials and tribulations of those forced to use wheelchairs, I shall only rant on those. People with cerebral palsy, or menial illness of some sort, or visual, auditory or speech impairments, or disabilities of various ilk will have their own tales to tell.

I do not have the independence to go to a movie, play or concert for several reasons: (i) I cannot get out of my house in my wheelchair for fear of getting grievously injured or killed by some speeding maniac on a motor-cycle or in a car; (ii) I cannot get onto or off a pavement because our town-planners simply do not bother to equip our pavements with cutaways or ramps; (iii) in any case, there are so many obstructions on the pavements (if indeed there are any pavements) that navigating on them in a wheelchair is a pipe-dream; (iv) our public transportation is simply unusable by a wheelchair-user; (a bunch of us went through a heart-breaking experience performing an `access audit' of the much touted CMRL) (v) and if, in spite of all odds, I got to the Museum Theatre or the Alliance Francaise for that play, I need that magic carpet to take me and my wheel-chair up all those steps.

And the Government gets all coy and calls people like me `differently able' and when I find myself having to get out of the comfortable cocoon of my wheelchair and climb that inevitable step or two, there is no dearth of people who are ready to help me - only, their idea of helping is to grab me by my upper arm and try to essentially power me along (repeated requests to desist (chod dhijiye mujhe) are forgotten until the next tricky stair that has to be navigated).

All this ranting on my part is in spite of my being one of those guys who is lucky to be financially quite comfortably off and have a considerable support system set in place after years of planning and demanding my right. If I was not so solvent, I would have no option but to stay at home all day - simply because I just could not get out of my home.

Happy Independence Day! Jai Hind!

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