Saturday, 29 November 2014

Stamp of the bully

One sure sign of the bully is that he grabs the lion's share of what's on offer, and expects the `lesser members' of his fold to lump it and live with it; e.g.

  • a staggering majority of the world's wealth/resources is in the hands of a ridiculously small minority;
  • a majority of a state's budgetary allocation for its transport facilities is spent on taking more and more space for making more and more, wier and wider, roads, with the prime beneficiaries being drivers of private automobiles;
  • the larger cities, like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru usurp the right to consume unreasonably and disproportionately large percentages of power/water and such essential commodities today, leaving essentially nothing for the rest of their state (Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, in the cases at hand);
  • at a national level, decisions are made at capitals on matters affecting all citizens of the country, by having meetings of `stakeholders' who are invariably limited to one recurring cast of characters living in the capital, thereby making a mockery of the democratic process.

I am particularly distressed by one manifestation of the last example above. Readers of this blog do not need to be reminded about the history of the passage of the contentious RPD Bill of 2014. In the initial weeks of this year, some so-called `leading representatives' of the disability movement in the country, mostly from Delhi, in an unholy nexus with the `netas' of a floundering Congress party, tried to hastily push through this RPD Bill. It was a feather in the cap of the bullied poor relatives from outside the capital, that they perceived and highlighted the numerous flaws in this wannabe-bill, and got parliament to send this to a Standing Committee, so that it could currently be kept in cold storage till it could be reviewed properly after the new government had been voted in. Barely a month ago, opinions were sought from the public regarding the merits/de-merits of this Bill. Several people sent in well-documented and argued petitions to the SJ&E Ministry. After this farce of a democratic exercise, we read a recent gleeful boast in Facebook by one of the proponents of this Bill (from long before the time of the aborted attempt early in the year) that the Parliamentary Standing Committee will be holding its meetings to discuss the RPD Bill was set to meet on Dec. 2nd, and hopes to have the new law in place by January 2015! This farce of a democratic process needs to be exposed for its Delhi-centric and nationally unrepresentative way of passing ridiculously framed laws.

One would think that if a law was once attempted, in vain, to be pushed through, and if it came up for review, the people consulted would include some of the people who pointed out the shortcomings of the earlier failed version, and an attempt made to see
  • what the reasons were for its not having been passed earlier; and
  • what remedial measures have been adopted in the new draft to address the flaws perceived earlier.

When will we stop going back to the same bullies again and again, ad nauseum?


Is there any room for these barbarities the civilised country where:

  • people zoom through an intersection even when the signal is red?
  • people park their cars and motorcycles on pavements, blithely impervious to the inconvenience this causes by blocking the only possibly safe space for people to walk, disabled people to use their wheelchairs, blind people trying to navigate a safe distance from the ubiquitous automobiles?
  • or even worse, when the roads are full of cars stalled in a traffic jam, motorcycles start zooming on the pavements - assuming pavements exist and are even, with cutaways to easily get on to and off from the pavement?
  • it is not feasible to keep tactile tiles on pavements, since miscreants remove such tiles and take them away for god knows what use their perverted minds wish to put them to?
  • groups of disability activists have to periodically make access audits prior to making fervent pleas to  all and sundry to refrain from such inconsiderate practices that are constantly infringing on and depriving them of their rights to lead their lives independently, and with dignity?

  • people of all ages periodically throw plastic bags on the road after their contents have been used/consumed?
  • men unzip their flies and `let fly' in random public places?
  • close to half the population do not have access to toilets at home, and defecate out in the open - often on the banks of water bodies (even the supposedly sacred Ganges, Brahmaputra and Cauvery are not exempt from such pollution)? and people of `high castes' insist on doing so and forcing people of `low castes' to scrape this s..t off the ground and carry basket loads of such `night-soil', as it is euphemistically called, to dump it god knows where?
  • Whenever there are blocks in the sewage system, people of the same Dalit classes are `employed' to get into the sewers without any protection of any sort to unclog the mess,; not  week goes by without your reading in the papers that two or three such `cleaners' lost their lives due to having inhaled noxious fumes when they went down into the drains, AND that this inhuman practice of people diving into the s..t had been declared illegal some n years ago.

Yet, all these unholy practices continue unabated in my land with its fabled culture of several millennia! If this is civilisation, please give me the era of the caveman!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

A quiz for town-planners

Would you rather live in Kochi or Delhi? Cambridge or Birmingham? Los Angeles or Boston? Tokyo or Kyoto?

What is the common feature of each of the `winning cities' to the last question?

If land is constantly acquired for broadening roads for `easier commutes' for cars, what do you do when the whole nation has only roads and no more land?

If the only way to get from anywhere to anywhere (even just crossing the street like the proverbial chicken) is to get into a car and drive some three or four kilometres, what do you do when Mother Earth has been sucked dry of all her oil reserves by the increasing need of the SUVs and motor cars?

Have you seen the movie Mad Max?

How does a mother take her children to play in a green when all the green has become tar or concrete?

If the worship of wide roads even leads to motor cycles using the pavements (should they exist), where does one walk, or use a wheelchair, if one cannot do without such aids?

(This post is a response to the following depressing news of an endeavour begun by the same city corporation which has been periodically giving us tidbits in the newspapers about `reclaiming our open spaces' and `introduction of jogging and cycling tracks'.)

Saturday, 1 November 2014

A WDD with a difference

World Disabulity Day is apparently `observed' on December 3rd every year. This `observation' can be done in one of at least two ways:

(i) you could reserve one particular date on the calendar on which date, every year, you announce to the world that `some of your best friends are freaks' and on which date you will tell the whole world that everybody must be kind to freaks and strive to fill the world with `freak lovers'; or

(ii) you could tell yourself (and the world) that it is idotic to define some specific way somebody is different as `freakishness', realise that everybody is a `freak' in some way, and that the intelligent way to make the world a better place to live in is to revel in the existence of differences between us, and to strive for the ideal of `universal design' whose inclusive nature made no concessions for a design which singles out certain `freaks' for not being able to use that which has been designed in an inconsiderate and unthinking manner. (For instance, having a restaurant which can only be reached by climbing a flight of `only three' steps from road-level is a perfact instance of exclusive design which disallows clients who need to use a wheelchair.)

And there was this e-discussion between some people in my group (calling itself the DRA - short for Disability Rights Alliance) on how to utilise the forthcoming `World Disability Day' to clarify the distinction between the two perceptions/attitudes in (i) and (ii) above, when the following brilliant suggesstion came up: `gherao vehicles parked in such a way as to render pavements inaccessible'. (The freaky non-Indian reader of this piece should seek a `normal' Indian's aid in understanding what `gherao' means.)

(Thanks are due to my former student Madhushree for capturing the essence of my glee at the prospect in this cartoon she whipped up in a couple of days.)

This suggestion was just after my heart. Fortunately, enough members of DRA were happy with the idea of doing `something' about accessible pavements. In addition to several wheelchairs parked - preferably with occupants - encircling a motorcycle  or car parked across a pavement, I have fond hopes of executing one of my pet dreams (born in a freaky disabled mathemtician's mind, naturally) of parking my wheelchair right in the way of people trying to access a flight of steps - leading to a store or the ATM of some bank or any commercial place, with a `simple mathematical problem' (which would be totally incomprehensible to one without some mathematical training, but would be as simple for me as climbing those three steps would be for them) which people would have to solve before I would move my wheelchair out of their way, and pointing out that freaks ill-equipped to solve the problem unfortunately had no place in my world.

I await December 3rd with ghoulish desire - to see people's reaction to this world with roles reversed.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

This is what my people say

 I have been blessed with having been accepted as a member of a loosely knit group of individuals who call themselves the Disability Rights Alliance which contains quite an erudite and right-thinking group of people - from legally trained minds to people with decades of experience of work in `the sector', and here is what one of them had to say about this contentious RPWD Bill of 2014:

   A reading of the Bill reveals that there is a complete lack of
   understanding of the approach of the UNCRPD on the part of the drafters.
   From abridged definitions (which are extremely crucial and clear under the
   convention), to plain callousness in the arbitrary and unresearched 'list'
   of disabilities, the RPWD Bill fails utterly in its lofty self stated
   objective to implement the UNCRPD. Some of the most crucial provisions of
   the UNCRPD which were celebrated in the disability movement – the adoption of the social model of definition of disability in Article 1, the concept
   of reasonable accommodation under Article 2, the right to full legal
   capacity under Article 12, the right to independent living under Article
   19, the right to accessibility under Article 9, respect for home and the
   family under Article 23, the right to inclusive education under Article 24,
   and the right to participation in political and public life, have all been
   either diluted or outright ignored by the drafting committee of this Bill.

And what I liked best about her summary of our various discussions on the topic was her


*IF* India's ratification of the CRPD was of informed consent (and with
'sound mind' by current law!),
*if* the RPWD Bill is to comply with the CRPD,
*if* historical injustice is to be ended with an emancipatory, equalising
legislation that aggressively promotes participation of disabled citizens
in realising their potential,

and *if* public's feedback is genuinely being sought in this and other
legislative and policy matters;

it cannot be this murky token excuse of public participation.
A section of the disability sector's legal members are of the opinion that
the preponderence of changes that are required to be made to the existing
draft (refer attached annexure) would be better served by a fresh law
instead of a much patched draft.

If so to avoid the current dismal state of affairs, needless delay and
waste of public's time and money clear, fair and transparent guidelines are
a must, and since currently lacking, are the need of the hour.

The DRA seeks a cross-sectoral representation of 4 DRA member
representatives to meet with the Standing Committee to enable India with
the disability law she so desperately needs.

What I really like about this is that it says, in a much more poitically acceptble way, the exact same thing I said in a possibly much more crude and abrasive fashion in my last post. Bottom line: FLUSH THIS BILL DOWN WITH THE WASTE-MATTER AND MAKE A FRESH START TOWARDS A UNCRPD-COMPATIBLE DRAFT OF ONE.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Old wine in new bottles - or the monster rears its head again

In this past December/January, an attempt was made to pass a Bill euphemistically called `Rights of People with Disabilities Bill 2014' when it was discovered just in time by many people that this was a more a Bill of denial of such rights, and a hue and cry was made with the result that this `Bill' was sent to a Standing Committee. The primary objection to the Bill was that it kept violating the tenets of the UNCRPD that India became signatory to more than seven years ago. (As for what I mean by these violations, please see a  past post in this blog where I go berserk on this theme.) One had hoped that this Standing Committee would try to supervise the drafting of  a completely new Bill that was much more in tune with the general principles of the UNCRPD.

But now, the Parliament has issued a Press Communique dated Sept. 26th, announcing that this Standing Committee is inviting suggestions on the Bill from the public within 15 days of the announcement of the Communique. They kindly give you a link to where one may find this Bill; and what does one find there, but exactly the repugnant Bill that there was such a hullaballoo over in January/February.

Why can't the committee appoint a subcommittee of appropriately qualified and knowledgeable people to draft a new Bill which does not contravene the UNCRPD every few lines? While the latter has a completely unambiguous and humane definition of `Persons with disabilties', the RPD Bill 2014, on the other, very sagaciously identifies exactly 19 forms of disability - how 19? why 19? why this 19? - and thereby sets the cat among the pigeons pitting the several million PWD in India against one another as to who may be recognised as a PWD and hence entitled to how much of the entitlements kindly rationed out to them. And the manner of assigning percentages of posts that would be reserved for various kinds of PWD can only be understood by an Indian bureaucrat familiar with our legalese. This manner of `divide and conquer' has not been as effectively used since the days of colonisation of the `primitive' peoples by the `civilised' colonisers. 

It almost appears that what is expected is a `point-by-point' rebuttal, with numbers of relevant clauses cited, of the existing draft. As one of my friends said some eight months ago, in colourful Tamil, this Bill is `such a hopelessly torn rag full of holes, that it makes no sense trying to darn it in a few places to try and present something halfway decent'. 

This draft is, quite simply, hopelessly flawed, and one must start from scratch on a fresh sheet of paper, starting from the UNCRPD, and making India-specific amendments only where absolutely necessary.  AND this exercise of drafting must be taken from disability activists representing different kinds of disability and different parts of India (rather than the same old people in New Delhi whom our media has almost equated with the public face of PWDs in India).

Let us PLEASE take a fresh look at this vitally important matter. We have been given a second lease of life to set things in order. Let us not waste this reprieve by making a mess of it again.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Physician, heal thyself!

Haven’t you always wondered at the inordinately high level you have to climb on to before you can have an x-ray or a scan? Is there a secret golden rule followed by hospitals which demand that a patient who is aged, or who has some locomotor problems, must suffer that much more before the cause of their ailment can be assessed?
An attempt was recently made by some friends of mine, to conduct a survey of accessibility features in various hospitals, by requesting them to answer a questionnaire that had been prepared. The results were neither reassuring nor surprising:
  • 98 hospitals were approached for this purpose.
  • 64 of them agreed to answer the questionnaire, and although some responses seemed to be at some variance from what the volunteers taking the questionnaires saw, they had to take the questionnaires with the answers provided - without asking questions.
  • 34 hospitals refused to answer the questionnaire as they did not have the provisions asked about in the questionnaire. But the surveyors have no proof of this! Some of these 34 hospitals could well have some of these accessibility features.
  • Of the 64 that did respond to the questionnaire, there were three groups, each of more or less the same size, which could be described as being rather inaccessible, moderately accessible, and quite accessible.
This is just the sort of issue that Dr. Satendra Singh, another disability activist friend of mine, excels at bringing to the attention of courts or other appropriate powers that be, and forcing them to do something about it. 

How about it, Satendra?