Saturday, 30 December 2017

One step forwards, two steps back

I have been a wheel-chair user since 2010. Consequently the railway, metro and buses in India have been a closed book to me since 2010. The only way I can traval is by cars (private or large taxis like an Innova which will have room to transport my wheelchair and care giver). Or I can fly on our airlines, fervently hoping that my (motorised) wheelchair will safely make it to my destination without its battery having been at the receiving end of a hatchet job by airport security personnel.

We have been making periodic attempts for several years at making the local metros, buses and roads/pavements accessible, and our successes can be listed on the head of a not particularly fat pin. Recently, some of us got to talk to the DG of CISF and found him very reasonable and amenable as we talked to him about problems we as PWD faced during air travel, the only (and not very cheap!) form of travel that is usable by us some of the time. I'd like to believe this catalysed two meetings of the big brass in the business of air travel, security, etc. After the last one, Nipun Malhotra posted on fb that he was now able to travel all the way sitting in his wheelchair, and I confirmed with him that I should not have a problem doing the same thing with mine.

On the other hand, the last of these Delhi meetings with accessible noises was held on Nov. 22, and not even four weeks later, a computer scientist friend of mine was prevented by the Air India ground staff from boarding a flight from Bengaluru to Delhi citing security concerns allegedly stemming from his battery-operated wheelchair. Mr. O.P. Singh, can you please have your rules, about carrying one's own wheelchair on our planes, uniformly and universally available? Among the security personnel of an airline/airport I have seen, I must have heard more than a 100 different and original interpretations of the rules concerning motorised wheelchairs. Will you please help remove this ever-threatening sword of Damocles hanging over wheelchair users trying to fly in our skies.

Although private airlines have also been guilty of making things difficult for PWD (eg, the famous Spicejet vs. Jeeja Ghosh incide, and even Indigo of late, which I tend to use because I felt they were disabled-friendly, it is our National Carrier that never fails to surprise me in their rudeness/disabled-unfriendliness. A classic instance of this is when an ex-Air Force pilot who lost his legs in an accident went on AI for a meeting in Singapore, only to discover to his horror that AI could not find his wheelchair when they got to Singapore, and they offered him no help in acquiring a wheelchair for temporary use. Unfortunately, when anybody's work related travel is funded by Govt. sources, there is a GO that such travel must be on AI. I suppose this is one (only?) way of keeping AI afloat! 

Just as they fixed Kaushik Majumdar on his way from his base in Bengaluru to Kolkata, they did such a hatchet job on my wheelchair on my Hyderabad-Chennai flight while returning from the International Congress of Mathematicians held at Hyderabad. All the wires connected to the battery had been systematically yanked out. As this was discovered in Chennai where this wheelchair had been made, I could have the damage rectified quickly. Since that day, I have never flown AI. 

Thursday, 9 November 2017


In the Indian Statistical Institute, when the honorific Professor or Doctor is used without a name following it, it always refers to its founder P.C. Mahalanobis or its leading statistician C.R. Rao, it being considered a sacrilege to suggest equating anybody else to one of these paragons. In my house, the word Doctor, if unqualified, always refers to Dr. Krishnamoorthy Srinivas, also respectfully called Chief or Professor in his Dept. of Neurology at the Voluntary Health Centre. Ever since I walked into his clinic after realising I had some neurological problem, I was captivated by him. On the one hand, his walls may be overflowing with his various degrees and assorted certificates, his table overflowing with photographs of various distinguished foreign doctors who visited his clinic, and he may seem to lose little time before letting you know of the prestigious schools and colleges he had studied at, and the rich and famous who have sought his expertise and help.

On the other hand, once you get past these superficial irritants, you discover you are in the presence of something rare that you cannot find for any amount of money: the very essence of the `family doctor', unfortunately a fast dying breed. The reason for this piece now is that he unfortunately passed away last week, and I want to sing his praises to the world. even if I have said some of this briefly in an earlier blogpost (in, where I describe my first meeting with him as one of my main `life-changing moments'.) I want the several immoral money-grabbing charlatans that call themselves `doctors' today to know what goes into the making of an exemplary upholder of the Hippocratic Oath.

How many doctors today
* give you their mobile phone number at your first meeting and ask you to always fix up an appointment first, and are in their cabin at least 5 min. prior to the time agreed upon?
* give you as much time as you need, and never rush you to leave?
* always enquire about the other members of your family and their well-being?
* never bring up the topic of money, and when you insist on asking him how much you should pay for his time, gives you the name of his favourite charity to which you may donate as much as you wish?

Whenever any of us (in my immediate family) required to consult a medical specialist of any sort, I would ask his advice. I still see an eye specialist recommended by him. Just two weeks ago, I needed an orthopedic specialist about a broken arm but Doctor was unfortunately not in the best of health - and yet he sent a name and a mobile phone number to my wife through his wife. When I saw that doctor, I could see he was of the same vintage. When I mentioned the indifferent health of Dr. Srinivas, he said `but I saw him just the other day in the Club'. The happy resolution of my orthopedic problem turns out to have been a parting gift from Doctor to an ever-appreciative patient of 17 years' standing. It appears that I can no longer postpone addressing the question of what I would do with my MS when I can no longer stop by his ever-welcoming room at the VHS. You will be missed so much by so many people in so many ways, Doctor!

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

bE  inclusivE

I first learnt the word `inclusion' in the context of set theory in mathematics. Here are two definitions that I'd like to see someone make some of our netas in Delhi write 100 times as an imposition.

A set (or collection) A is included in a set B if every member of A is a member of B.

Two sets A and B are equal if each is included in the other; i.e., they should have the same members.

For example, the set D of residents of Delhi is included in the set I of Indians. However, I is not equal to D since there are some members of I who do not have the good fortune of inhaling the polluted air of Delhi on a daily basis and instead live in `remote places' like Mumbai, Bengaluru or Chennai and are thus not members of D.

Some people are, however, still under the erroneous impression that I is equal to D. In case you are curious about why I am going on in this fashion, I will be more than glad to elaborate. As I do, you will find repeated confusing of I with D by members of D.

To start with, let me remind you that I spend a fair bit of my time being concerned with the work of a group calling ourselves the Disability Rights Alliance (DRA in the sequel). My friends in this group are largely from Chennai. All of this must be repeated ad nauseum, since we seem to be invisible to some of the more prominent disability activists in Delhi. For instance, a horrendous RPD Bill was almost passed in 2014, but many of us from DRA were at the forefront of a concerted campaign to bar the passage of this bill and in having it referred to a Standing Committee. This same Standing Committee almost fell into the I=D fallacy, and a further social media barrage from many of us made them avoid that error and come down to Chennai and another city in South India. They listened to our carefully prepared presentation and incorporated many of our suggestions in the report they gave the Govt. Unfortunately, the Govt. almost completely ignored that report and passed an RPD Bill - 2016 which still carried many faux pas of the 2014 precursor - and one of the oft-quoted Delhi disability activists was quoted by the press as hailing this landmark decision - even as many of us rued its divergence from the UNCRPD, in word and spirit.

And now I shall come to the Fall of 2017. Last month, we came to learn that the DG of CISF (Director General of Central Industrial Security Force) was going to be attending a meeting in Chennai. Now there had been many horror stories about indignities suffered in air travel by PWD, and CISF is in charge of security in airports. I was asked to pursue the possibility of some of us presenting our woes to the DG. After many emails and phone calls, I cajoled them into letting us present our point of view. That attempt saw the DG seeming to be very sympathetic and pro-active, going to the extent of asking me to send his office a copy of the presentation I had prepared of our points of view.

I followed this up with two or three mails where I pointed out at least two instances of passengers with disability suffering insensitive treatment at the hands of the security guards, and saying the time was ripe for a team from CISF and a group of disability activists to sit together to iron out their differences. Imagine my surprise at receiving an email on Oct. 4th, inviting me to exactly such a meeting on Oct. 11th. I wrote back saying nothing had been said about who would pay my airfare, and that it was clearly not proper for decisions to be made which would affect all Indians, with such decision-making being based only on opinions of Delhi-ites. To this, I got another email saying airfare could not be paid to people coming from outside Delhi, and suggesting that I provide them with names of some people based in Delhi. So I send desperate emails and phone calls to my PWD friends in Delhi to ensure our concerns would be well represented.

India is one of the most e-literate countries, and there is no excuse for not having this and all such meetings Skype enabled so interested people from any city, not even necessarily in India, can participate in them. There is absolutely no justification for excluding people on the basis of the city they live in, especially when technology makes it so easy to be e-inclusive!

I just heard yesterday's meeting went off quite satisfactorily and that a follow-up meeting is scheduled, which will be graced by the Minister of MSJE, and more importantly, will be accessible by skype to members of I-D! If this had been the case with yesterday's meeting, I could have been part of it from the comfort of my own study, and there need not have been all this tension and disappointment.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

We invite and piss on our teachers

This is an open letter to our Prime Minister(*), and people who organise functions in Vigyan Bhavan to honour respected teachers, and achievers in other fields. Can you imagine greater disrespect than for Arjuna to invite Krishna to pay homage to him and then have him informed that all sarathy's should use the rear entrance? What Vigyan Sadan doles out to its teachers and other achievers - at least those that are unfortunate to have a disability - is that same manner of disrespect. The latest such instance was the day `honouring teachers'. As Shradha Chettri sayn in her piece, this is at least the third instance of such flagrant violations of the RPD Bill by the organisers. What happened to Sugamya Bharat Abiyan, Pradhan Mantri-ji, which you have gone on record to call your `pet scheme'? Is there a date after which Vigyan Bhavan and similar inaccessible horrors handed down to us by our British masters have to start being accessible, or face consequent penalties? I can't wait for the day when I can sue these white elephants which bring shame on everything scientific. Watch out, Vigyan Sadan, JN Tata Auditrium and IISc - you are high on my `hit-list' When can I give documentation and demand action from the Accessible India Campaign?

(*) The fact that he passed the buck to the Vice-President this time makes him doubly guilty of lack of guru-bhakthi!

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Crying Need

Yesterday, I attended a meeting at Vidya Sagar, initially scheduled for 1030-1330. Many convincing points were raised, many obviously pressing considerations were brought up, but the issue is so large that no definitive conclusions could be reached nor could `to do' lists be drawn up. I unfortunately had to leave as it was already almost 1400 and there was no sign of some sort of consensus being reached any time soon. As though to punish me for my inconsiderate and rude behaviour, the elevator stopped almost as soon as I got in and it started moving! After repeated attempts to ring the alarm bell, I was finally `brought down'. After thinking about it, I felt I should try to make amends and try to raise general consciousness on the issue at hand.

The subject of the meeting was `supported decision making for persons with typically psycho-social or intellectual disability and even those with `high support needs'. If you think about it, most institutions for persons with disability were founded by a parent of a child with disability, eg., the Association of People with Disabilities (in Bangalore), the Spastic Society (in Bombay), Vidya Sagar (in Chennai), ... The over-riding concern/worry of N.S. Ayyangar, Mitu Alur and Poonam Natarajan would have been how the child would fend for herself/himself when the parents are no longer around! Much of yesterday's discussion centred on such worrying facts as: the `child' may not even be aware of money-management, or even permitted to open and maintain a bank account in view of our sloppy attempt at writing an India-specific version of the UNCRPD! The mind boggles at the magnitude of the problem of setting systems in place to help such `children' (who would likely be fully grown adults when confronted with the situation outlined).

There is a cousin of mine whose parents are no more, but fortunately, a trust was put in place by his father, manned by his son's siblings and their spouses, which was endowed sufficiently handsomely to ensure that his son's needs would always be taken care of - and fortunately there is no joker in the pack with the need/greed to misuse the funds set aside for running this trust. Since not everybody would be so fortunate, it seems natural that each such `child' must be able to have a body of trusted friends and relatives to orchestrate the necessary infrastructure to ensure a `normal' life, without fear of being taken advantage of by crooked members of his/her trust. The need to set desirable systems in place for every such `child' is the crying need of the hour that the group at Vidya Sagar attempted to make a dent into at yesterday's discussion. This is the sort of task that should be taken up seriously by our Ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment, rather than renaming themselves using the term Divyang-jan - by which artifice they divert the problem-solving to the divinity with which they portray the PWD they should be serving!

Why can't MyGov take a serious step in this direction? Most importantly, get inputs from the stakeholders before putting up a faulty system in place!

Sunday, 30 July 2017

My beef with architects

Let me clarify something at the very start: I have nothing against architects; I have architect-relatives of many hues: brother, cousin (late, still living), son/daughter of of cousin, and so short, to use a PGW-ism, you can't throw a cat at a family gathering of mine without it braining an architect or two.

My gripe with architects is that their idea of aesthetics seems to almost demand lots of steps and consequently inaccessibility to a wheelchair user such as I! I have long carried on (e.g., see my blogpost my quixotic joust with the architects who build these sadistic `windmills'. Another of my blogposts talks about our National Institute of Design which is like something out of a nightmare of a wheelchair user.

This conviction of mine that accessibility is a blind spot for architects - in fact even that advertising this blind spot is almost necessary for being considered a good architect - was brought home to me with a thud when I saw a list of what were considered among the best recent constructions in

I keep ranting and the architects keep saying `there,there', as if I were a little child throwing a tantrum! How I wish Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier had been locomotor-challenged! Will somebody please take me seriously?

Monday, 3 July 2017

Citizen Protection Act

It is high time we had a `Citizen Protection Act' along the lines of the existing `Consumer Protection Act'. According to Wikipedia, the latter is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted in 1986 to protect the interests of consumers in India. It makes provision for the establishment of consumer councils and other authorities for the settlement of consumers' disputes and for matters connected therewith also. When you can demand satisfaction for goods you purchase, it stands to reason that you should be able to demand satisfaction for taxes extracted from your hard earned wages.

Quoting such an Act, I would ask our Finance and Prime Ministers to justify why I (and other similarly deprived PWD) should pay taxes for:
  • broad four lane highways which are rendered impossible to cross by such devilishly devious hurdles as four foot high road dividers, no pedestrian crossings rendered safe by traffic lights with a green option for pedestrians, and sadistically designed foot-bridges reached after climbing some forty steps?
  • buses, trains and metros which are uniformly unusable by a wheelchair user or a visibility impaired person?
  • roadway systems where pavements, in the rare instance that they exist, have to be shared by scared pedestrians with two-wheelers tearing down at breakneck speeds.
Armed with such an act, I would also
  • ask our MSJE why the entire ministry has not stood as one to protest the obvious and unfair implications of imposing GST according to inscrutable reasoning where agarbattis and sindoor are taxed almost nothing while prosthetic aids, crutches, wheelchairs and braille paper are taxed far far more heavily (rather than spending their energies on `fake news' about Kohli and Kumble throwing the final of the Champions Cup Trophy against `arch enemy Pakistan');
  • point out that the implications of GST to PWD are akin to encouraging Jaitley and Modi to pray to the accompaniment of all Hindu rituals while taxing them to walk or write; as Amba Salelkar quite rightly says in an article in Scroll, the state would do well to question its imposing taxes on PWD who are, ever so often, denied facilities that it extends to its `non-special' people (those not gifted with Divine powers and worthy of the title `Divyangjan')!
  • ask our `leaders' to own up not taking any action about the sorry state of affairs in our country where you are fair game for a grisly end if you are a Muslim or a Dalit; from carefully expressed sense of horror by respected public figures (see to spontaneous outbursts by citizens across the country (with slogans like `not-in-my-name') it is increasingly clear that all but the RSS bhakhts writhe with shame and anger at this state.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Imagine what if ...- just for all those people

This piece of make-believe fiction was born of a silly family whatsapp discussion. My sister-in-law commented that the job of the President of India was falling vacant in July in case somebody was jobless and interested. It so happened that I had formally retired from my position as senior Professor of mathematics just a few weeks earlier; so i responded `hey, I am jobless', and what followed was some tongue-in-cheek promises of promising support in the event of not being a competitor.

As days went by, and as I saw the names that were being touted for possible candidates for the post, I started indulging in some day-dreaming, listing the pros and cons of the prospect of `putting in my application' for the job. By an odd coincidence, nearly the same fact was at the top of both lists, viz. the implications of and for my multiple sclerosis. Let me elaborate the lists as I see them, starting with the cons.

I have become increasingly locomotor disabled, having spent the last month trying to make our residence, which has been home for almost 15 years, accessible. My disease leaves my energy levels depleted most of the time, so much so that my wife and I had decided to minimise, maybe even altogether eliminate, travel. One of the many reasons I have wanted to not even think of moving out of Chennai is that my doctor lives in Chennai and he has shepherded me through many phases of MS with an utmost comforting and soothing manner; and I would never want to forego the security of his proximity.

Now for the pros. If the Indian president was essentially wheelchair-bound, the promises of rendering our country accessible can finally become reality. Magically, ramps and elevators will sprout everywhere. And even Air India will be forced to allow a PWD to take his own wheelchair into the plane, and to make sure that such wheelchair is available for its user when needed on arriving at the destination (unlike several horror stories that have been reported in our national newspapers of the wheelchair not being found at the destination!). Implementing the aims of the UNCRPD will be a breeze. And I wil have occasion to tell a potential Presidential candidate, Mr. E. Sreedharan, of the NDA, that with his Metro, a last possible hope, of travel on public transport by PWD, has gone down the tubes - by showing him the records of DRA's attempts to engage CMRL over several years, that have been meticulously preserved by Vaishnavi.

And now to answer the inevitable question of why anybody should consider my `job-application' seriously, I can trot out the list of winners (which also includes me) of awards such as Nobel Prizes, Magsaysay Award, Padma Awards of all hues (Shree, Bhushan, Vibushan), Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize for Science and Technology, that have been periodically turned out by my extended family 9going up to grand-uncle and grand-aunt!) After all, ours is a nation where people are made rulers because of their families! In terms of preparedness for the job, I am also a scientist, not unlike Abdul Kalam. I could then go on to enumerate my own achievements in mathematics and social awareness building of the plight of PWD.

Finally, at a time when one hears ominous slogans like `United States of South India' and echoes of the old `anti-Hindi' sentiment, it would be a good idea to opt for a person who can't speak Hindi to save his life, and to give a semblance of an assurance to the southern states that non-Hindi speakers are still very much a part of the fabric of the Indian tricolour. This is obviously not a carefully thought out idea (or job application) of mine;  I do not want  people to take me too seriously and mock me for even thinking of this as a possibility.

On the other hand, just think what this would mean for the several millions of PWD in our country - a measure of how seriously their plight is taken by our Govt. being indicated by their calling us Divyangjan, while they have not given a moment's thought to finding out just how many such divine creatures there are! Just imagine what a PWD in the Rashtrapathi Bhavan can mean for the lives of the undetermined number of our divine PWD!

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Can't we ever learn from our mistakes? 

Is it the Indian ethos that we always give the job to politicians and not to professionals? Let me begin with the glaring example of Indian cricket: around 1950, maharajas and bureaucrats were entrusted with leading or selecting teams, and I do not believe India ever won a cricket test, leave alone a test series. We have come a long way till we left such serious matters as selection of teams or captains to professionals. The path from the Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram (or Vizzy, as he was known) to Dhoni and Kohli was possible only after matters of selection were left to people who really played and knew cricket like Gavaskar and Kapil Dev. By adopting this obvious change in methodology, the Indian cricket team was transformed from a laughing stock to world-beaters.

In contrast, you just have to look at our squads for the Olympics. Once every four years, we suffer the embarrassment of being the squad more than 50% of which consists of fat administrators who have probably never played anything; and the `bare'ness of our cupboard of olympic tallies reminds you of Old Mother Hubbard's! The fate of hockey and tennis are also similarly dismal.

Now let me remove the kid gloves and come to the point. The people that this letting off steam is directed at is our various Government bodies `entrusted' with realising the promises made to the PWD (Persons with Disability) about giving them their rights and due.

To put it simply enough for your limited powers of comprehension, here are some instances of how you jokers are pulling a Vizzy on us:

* According to the Wikipedia, The NITI Aayog comprises the following:

Prime Minister of India as the Chairperson

A Governing Council composed of Chief Ministers of all the States and Union territories with Legislatures and lieutenant governor of Andaman and Nicobar.

Regional Councils composed of Chief Ministers of States and Lt. Governors of Union Territories in the region to address specific issues and contingencies impacting more than one state or a region.

Full-time organizational framework composed of a Vice-Chairperson, three full-time members, two part-time members (from leading universities, research organizations and other relevant institutions in an ex-officio capacity), four ex-officio members of the Union Council of Ministers, a Chief Executive Officer (with the rank of Secretary to the Government of India) who looks after administration, and a secretariat.

Experts and specialists in various fields [4]

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the Chairperson, the committee consists of

Vice Chairperson: Arvind Panagariya [5]

Ex-Officio Members: Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Suresh Prabhu and Radha Mohan Singh

Special Invitees: Nitin Gadkari, Smriti Zubin Irani and Thawar Chand Gehlot

Full-time Members: Bibek Debroy (Economist),[6] V. K. Saraswat (former DRDO Chief) and Ramesh Chand (Agriculture Expert)[7]

Chief Executive Officer:Amitabh Kant[8]

Governing Council: All Chief Ministers and Lieutenant Governors of States and Union Territories

Query: How many of these members have a trace of a connection with disability? Will they know one if it hit them in the face?

* There have been no end of pleas on our part that they have some PWD on their planning committees. Nevertheless, we are always presented with a fait accompli with deficiencies that would have immediately been spotted by a PWD. You just have to look at Vaishnavi Jayakumar's documentation of DRA's attempts at making CMRL (Chennai Metro Rail) think about making the metro accessible - and not screw up the last chance of having at least one means of public transport usable by PWD. When we finally did get a chance to take a look of the initial stretch from Alandur to Koyambedu, our worst fears had been realised : gap between train and pavement, toilets being totally inaccessible, ...

* I recently learnt (from one of Vaishnavi's emails, naturally) of something called Pre-Legislative Process (PLP). I am mentioning below a few pertinent links in the hope that people in our Government will involve and take the opinions of the people for whose supposed benefit they are attempting to enact a law. Even if some of the PLP considerations came into being at the behest of the erstwhile UPA Govt, these suggestions make sense. (e.g.., Pre-legislative scrutiny is a first step towards greater transparency in law-making.) Please do not ignore these links out of sheer cussedness!

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Let me lead my life; don't lead it on a one-way road to hell

This morning is the first Saturday morning of my `post-retirement life', and I can already see myself becoming one of those grumpy old scrooges who gets irritated with everything. Something to do with people not letting me lead my life the way I want to, constantly asking me to update my life and then rendering it unrecognisable and unfriendly. Let me do a slow rewind, starting with `the stone-ages' and fast-forwarding to  today's land of highways and information fast lanes.

When I finished a masters degree 44 years ago and went to foreign shores to do my doctoral work, I flew in a plane for the first time from a country where there was no television; where bicycling from home to the place of study (school or institute) was normal and feasible under half an hour; it was not uncommon to find a home with no phone; if you wanted information not available in your text books, then you cycled to a library, you had to find a plausible source of the desired information, possibly in the `reference section', and then copy down the desired information in a note-book - Xerox machines were still a decade away; and if you wanted to communicate with somebody in a different city or country, you had to write a letter, mail it, and await your response which could take some weeks to come. Despite this seemingly unnecessary self-denial, it did teach you to write well in order to communicate clearly and unambiguously. You did not say `how r u' or `lol' or `wtf'; these abbreviations are abrasive, often rude, and lead to entirely unwarranted misunderstandings - especially when they make up the fabric of conversation between people of different generations with different ideas about acceptable norms of behaviour! My first book was written in (an India-USA) collaboration with my (already former) thesis advisor in that era of `snail mail'; but thanks to his being from a generation which constantly honed its correspondence skills, that is probably my only totally error-free book.

With the advent of computers, much less time is spent on real work - what with constant beeps announcing some `notification' or the other that only serve to take your mind off what it was (and should have been) involved with; and the death of the reading habit was slow and inevitable. (How many kids of today even visit libraries; even book shops and libraries are inevitably filling their shelves with electronic items at the cost of books. When mobile phones first made their appearance, I postponed getting (dependent on) one for as long as possible, convinced they only lead to waste of time. When it could be postponed no further, I got one of those old thin and small phones you could hold and operate with one hand, where you used the phone keys for texting with `1' yielding `a',`b' or `c', with the `prediction' option kicking in as you typed more of the word.

This smartness seems to force you to (a) use large phones which do not fit easily into a hand or a pocket, (b) use two hands to receive a phone call, and (c) generally make the act of using a phone when vertical difficult if you have balance problems like I do. Also using the small QWERTY keyboard is tough if you have clumsy fingers like I do, so sending/responding to text messages is a major hassle. Then came smart phones which outsmart you by periodically asking, nay, persistently demanding that you `update' (now/overnight/later) your phone and revealing its new avatar after uploading, with many of the old options replaced by new and sometimes unfriendly ones! You can't keep on opting for `later' because the frequency of these demands increase exponentially, and eventually something does not work because you have an `old version'!

There is a pattern, in all walks of life, to this frantic desire for modernisation. For instance, the government tells you they will improve infrastructure (read `roads' - even though at least two people die every month due to going into the shit-filled sewers of our cities to try and de-clog them). Instead, they will try to widen roads, chewing up any pavement on  those infrequent occasions when they might have existed; then they will build a road separator, which will keep growing taller periodically, thus ensuring people cannot cross the streets; then they will remove all intersections and pedestrian crossings, thus ensuring that senior citizens or people with mobility problems can live in the cities only if they can travel in private cars; then they will threaten to build monster flyovers spanning several miles, whose construction will shamelessly and irreversibly cut down trees everywhere and reduce green cover. Never mind: just turn up the air-conditioner in your car!

What my mood needed to go over the top was this email from my DRA friends about

NITI Aayog's three Year Action Plan for Persons with Disabilities

The document talks about making a section of each class room accessible as per universal design standards in next 3 years. 3 years and just one section in each class room? It also mentions making just 10,000 buildings accessible in the next 3 full years?? Including the plan made under Accessible India Campaign that is been carried out so far?

Secondly no mention about any new programs like personal assistant program or supported decision making units. No attempt for the appointment/deputation of an inclusion focal point within NITI Ayog.

Last but most importantly, the action plan PDF as released by NITI Aayog, which is attached alongside, is not accessible for persons with print disabilities.

Yes Pradhan Mantriji, this report will go a long way in assuring your favourite Divyangjan that there is positive probability that your ministry may manage, by the year 2100, to have one school that is truly accessible and manage to maintain a state-of-the-art Resource Centre, be a repository of research on good governance and best practices in sustainable and equitable development as well as help their dissemination to stake-holders (point no. 10 in the stated `Functions' of this organisation according to Wikipedia).

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Give me a break, Pradhan Mantriji!

Our Hon’ble Prime Minister has urged all citizens to avoid usage of Petrol/Diesel for one day in a week. He has said that if 125 crore Indians pledge to do this, the dream of a ‘New India’ can be achieved.

I have a query for our honourable PM: how can I do this, given these facts:

  • I am a wheel-chair user;
  • I live in a society which is completely non-inclusive;
  • cities are designed for cars, cars and more cars; 
  • I can only cross a main road by either (i) climbing some forty steps to use a pedestrian overbridge, then climb down those 40 steps after having crossed the width of the road, or (b) taking my life in my hands and dashing across the road along with other hapless pedestrians, even as cars are crossing the intersection because no allowance is made for pedestrians to cross the street; 
  • most roads do not have pedestrian overbridges and the pedestrian crossings are few and far between; and I will have to travel miles on my wheelchair, assuming this is possible, before I can find a traffic light with an invisible pedestrian crossing;
  • metros, train stations and bus stands are designed in such a mindless fashion as to ensure that I have no access to public transport of any kind.

Before you come up with another of your brainwaves (your demonetisation gag forced me to make multiple trips to inaccessible ATMs and banks to get crumbs of my hard-earned money, for every rupee of which I have paid tax, now this), please come to my city of Chennai with its many dark-skinned people who know no Hindi and are yet citizens of the country you `rule'. You can stay in my house and tell me how I can possibly live my life and do my work without recourse to a petrol-using car; while I give you a blow-by-blow description of the barriers/hurdles that would impede the progress of my wheelchair from our flat to my institute barely 3 km away!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Get up, Stand up, Stand up for your right

I just read this heart rending plea from a quadriplegic that our society make it possible for her to get out of her room, cross the street to join her friends for a meal in a restaurant, use her qualifications and earn a reasonable living, ... I tell you ; I am getting sick of this society where one has to beg for what is considered common courtesy, nay a fundamental human right, and of a government which continues to do nothing, but nevertheless keeps passing toothless laws and empty promises. How many countries will have the gall to sentence a wheelchair-using professor for having been a Maoist sympathiser without producing anything remotely like serious evidence? Maybe it is time for all of us to emulate his example and stop begging for scraps from a plate that should be our right, and start demanding it more aggressively.

And with the recent `de-monetisation' exercise, you have to keep withdrawing money from the ATMs or cash counters of banks which are all equally inaccessible for a wheelchair user. People like Satendra Singh keep fighting for empathy and accessibility, in spite of repeatedly being fed lies when they file RTIs, and still keep up the fight!

In my fury, I thought of Bob Marley, and  turned on a video of his classic song `Get up, Stand up, Stand up for your right, Don't give up the fight'. The energy and conviction he puts into what could well be `our song', is all the motivation `our warriors' might need in their ongoing fight with an unyielding establishment. Though it is still time away, I would like to propose the following strategy. I learnt during a discussion with friends on our contentious RPD Bill of 2016 that all public buildings have been given time till Dec. 28th, 2018 to render themselves accessible. Let us give due warning to our `Divyangjan' ministries that we shall send them photographs (with a timeline of Dec. 28, 2018) of such notoriously inaccessible places as Vigyan Sadan and New Delhi Railway Station and promptly institute legal action. Had my late mother been around then, that would have been her 99th birthday. She had always ben a great source of encouragement, even actively encouraging me to get myself a motorised wheelchair (hard as it must have been for a mother to see her youngest son's reduced state of mobility). I promise to take this battle right up to our mantri-log.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

For the times, they are a-changing

Once upon a time, the `elders' taught their children to be compasssionate and inclusive towards others less fortunate than they. The four links below (all to articles in The Guardian) are a telling commentary of our times. They show that, today, the governments of four of the more powerful countries of the `West' (USA, Australia, New Zealand, UK) are kicking people out of their borders. The mammoth slide, from Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., to Narendra Modi and Donald Trump, seems to suggest a sort of inevitability of this very sorry state of current affairs.

Hey Mr. Trump; take a leaf out of Ms. Mem Fox's book, and have your Homeland Security check out stories floating around about your wife not having been entirely truthful in filling forms in the past, and kick her out of America. That will be consistent with the four stories featured above.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Telling it like it is

This is the reality.

They will give us a divine name

Dole out wheelchairs and other aids and appliances at any given opportunity
to further their political career and to be seen as a great messiah.

Be patronising

Try to ruffle our hair (which we hate abominably)


Do they really care for us?

Do we exist for them?

Reality Check

*No mention of Disability in the Manifestos of the Political Parties (all)*

Is this something new?

Was there ever mention of DISABILITY in any political party’s Manifesto?


For them

We are no vote Bank

We don’t exist

*Ponder, React, Act *

(My reaction to the writer of this email is:

You forgot you are such an inspiration to all of us after the comment about `ruffling our hair'.)

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Why not just shoot all of us and show respect to our national anthem?

Our country is one of glorious contradictions.

On the one hand, we are one of the first countries to be signatory to the UNCRPD. This Convention states among other things that:

 “Discrimination on the basis of disability” means any distinction, exclusion or restriction on the basis of disability which has the purpose or effect of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal basis with others, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field. It includes all forms of discrimination, including denial of reasonable accommodation; 

On the other hand, our Home Ministry demands, in spite of whatever the Supreme Court has decreed, that differently abled people should not move about when the national anthem is played in movie halls and should, instead, stay alert. So people with Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy or Autism can either not see any movies or be prepared to face the wrath of nation bhakths.

Shri Rajnath-ji, can you please explain away the contradicting demands of the last two paragraphs?
(See for all the gory details of how (y)our Sarkar works.)