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.)