Saturday, 30 January 2016

We can work

New developments are on to bring into law the contentious `Right of Persons with Disabilities Bill of 2014' (henceforth RPDB), which is an attempted India-specific re-formulation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). In 2014 (the dying days of the Congress rule under Manmohan Singh), these efforts took various forms (some even resulting in a lathi-charge on peacefully protesting group of blind people). Fortunately many groups in the `sector' spotted and pointed out various potential pitfalls in the proposed RPDB, and more importantly, unacceptable deviations from and incompatibility with the UNCRPD, and the bill was forwarded to a Standing Committee. This latter committee made several recommendations, many laudable, while some fell short of the UNCRPD vision. Notable among these were the thorny question of legal capacity of people with severe disabilities, and the definition of persons with disabilities.

And now efforts are seemingly afoot once again to streamline and pass the RPDB.

While the UNCRPD is a model of inclusivity, the RPDB is a horror of exclusion. The former crisply says Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others while the latter has found some inexplicable way of concluding that there are precisely 19 kinds of disabilities. So if you are an Indian with a disability that is not in this shortlist, you cannot hope for any government subsidies, aids, etc.

It is against the backdrop of these shenanigans that one should try to understand the Pandora's box opened a few days ago by Ms. Maneka Gandhi.  To start with, the press apparently tried to report on Ms. Maneka Gandhi's comments on `the bill not laying criteria for determination of mentally disabled people'. Ms. Gandhi was reported to have said The bill does not differentiate between mentally ill and mentally disturbed peron. But there is a difference between the two. If a person is mentally ill like schezophrenic, how can he be given a job?

And that naturally got various groups `in the disability sector' up in arms. One hard-hitting response in the social media was called #wecanwork, where numerous PwDs (mostly mentally ill) sent in photgraphs of themselves carrying a paper/placard addresseing Mrs. Maneka Gandhi, mentioning their name, the nature of their disability, and details of the work they did. This literally blew up in her face and she made a clarification. She said: The newspaper article is entirely untrue. I do not make silly, loose comments specially when I have been minister for the disabled for 5 years and have made Acts that are in place today as well as having started Alimco etc. What I suggested at a closed door meeting of the ministries was that , instead of a gross mix-up of physically disabled, mentally ill. mentally challenged and diseased - all being lumped under the same category for the 3% reservation, we refine the list so that everyone knows the category in which they can get pensions / jobs. For instance , there is no point putting leprosy with autism. Leprosy is a disease and autism at its extreme level is a disablement. If we put leprosy in the list carelessly then we leave the door open to cancer , liver/kidney failure etc and make the 3% reservation a mockery. Regarding mental illness, I asked them to grade the different forms and see which can be employable and which needs a pension.

Our politicians should read the UN Charter on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (to which we have been signatory for many years now), which unambiguously states:

 (In the section on `Definitions'): “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.

(In the section on General Obligations):  Appropriate authorities shall undertake to ensure and promote the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities without discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability.

If one wants to know the difference between inclusivity and exclusivity, one only needs to compare the vision enshrined in the previous two paragraphs and the Statements attributed above to Ms. Gandhi. (By the way, Ms. Gandhi, one of your experience should not use politically unacceptable language like minister for the disabled, and persistently refer to a person with schizophrenia as a schizophrenic or a person with a physical disability as physically disabled, etc.

I had also put in my two bits' worth in the `wecanwork' onslaught (even though I was one of the few people whose impairment was not a mental one), and I received a phone call at 16.45 hrs from NDTV asking if I could come to their studio at 1900 hrs for a live recording for NDTV 24x7. As I did not want to let down the sector by missing this opportunity to air our views, I hurriedly got my act together and rushed to the studio (after going in Friday evening peak hour traffic for more than an hour). I tried to find out if the studio was wheelchair accessible. After two people assured me on the phone that this was the case, I went there and reached the building at 18.50. There was a step to enter the building and another step to get to the elevator; and the elevator was too small to take me in my wheelchair. So I had to walk to the elevator and go up, and wait till other people brought up my wheelchair! Why do people always assume everybody can go up just two steps and that this qualifies as `accessible'? I had half a mind to say I can't come up because it is not accessible. Many of my good friends CANNOT CLIMB ONLY TWO STEPS.

Anyway, I go up, and am the only person in front of a camera although the screen shows four or five boxes of pople. The compere of the show starts by saying `the sector' vigorously objected to Ms. Maneka Gandhi's statement on unemployability of schizophrenics (sic), that Ms. Gandhi had denied having said that but had only said something along the lines of the italicised paragraph above, and the compere sought the reactions of `the sector' to this re-formulation; and  she began by soliciting my opinion on this. All I could think of saying then was that the trouble was with the definition of PwD; it could be inclusive as in the UNCRPD, or exclusive as in the RPDB, that the quota system had rules such as  individuals with xyz disability (people with x fingers, y toes and z feet) being only entitled to apply only for pre-determined jobs. I tried to say such ad hoc rules would disallow existence of more than competent contributors to their work such as cosmologist Stephen Hawking or game theorist John Nash (Nobel Laureate with schizophrenia).

But NDTV was true to form. The compere never came back for a second opinion to anybody  other than Javed Abidi, and concluded with the statement that the important thing was that now the job reservation quota had gone up from 3 to 5%. Almost like nobody else said anything else of import to the sector! This wretched quota system, which was `the important final point' commented on by Mr. Abidi, only serves to create schisms in `the sector' making people fight for the peanuts that are being thrown their way, rather than demanding that they be shown the entire menu menu and choose what they feel confident they can do justice to. Once again, a reading of the UNCRPD, in word and spirit, is called for.

A final note to our media friends: there is more than one respectable disability activist in Delhi; I do not mean any disrespect or offence to Mr. Abidi, but the press might consider occasionally inviting views from `a menu that also includes such wonderful choices as' Dr. Satendra Singh, Abba Khetarpal, Anjlee Agarwal, Shivani Gupta, ... - as well as many more if they care to look beyond Delhi to Bhopal, Mumbai, Bengaluru....! A change of diet never hurt anybody!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Indeed Msed out, and with absolutely no attempt at making it look otherwise

I feel almost naked baring all these details of my personal life to the world. But I am so livid at this moment, probably not unlike a woman who has just been raped! On the one hand, it is not too pleasant having  people coming to me to say they feel bad for you when they can have no conception of what leading a life fighting all the unpleasant consequences of your state (being a woman in the wrong place at the wrong time, or battling all the daily implications that a disease like MS imposes on a victim) without the further recent insult that has been added to the injury faced daily, by a totally inhuman attitude. On the other hand, I feel like screaming WTF from the rooftops and shaming the rapist. So let me give a blow-by-blow description of the things leading up to this latest insult - rejection of my application for a visa only because I have MS.

In an earlier blogpost http://differentstrokes-vss.blogspot.in/2015/11/will-it-be-msed-opportunity.html I had said my application for a visa to visit our daughter in New Zealand on our 25th wedding anniversary (in mid-December) was stalled by a statement that the medical assessors normally take 12 weeks to make an assessment of the medical records, which had incidentally been sent to them in late October/early November. Then I was informed on Nov 21st that the medical assessor had sent his initial comments (Applicant has multiple sclerosis with very limited mobility and requires significant carer support), with his reason (The applicant has a physical, intellectual, cognitive and/or sensory incapacity which requires full time care, including care in the community) and opinion (Likely NOT ASH), with ASH standing for acceptable standard of health! I was told, nevertheless, that my application had not been turned down, and I could make counter-comments and give an alternate medical opinion from a reputable doctor.

So I sent a long email accepting the offer to rebut on all three counts (comments, reason and opinion of the medical assessor) as well as providing alternative medical assessment from a reputed doctor. I quote the relevant parts of that email:

"As for the MA's opinion regarding shortcomings in my intellectual or cognitive capacity, I should inform you that I am a mathematician of some international repute, as may be seen from my home-page at http://www.imsc.res.in/~sunder/ (maybe you should look up V.S. Sunder in Wikipedia; but that entry is old: I have now written 2 more books and more than 10 more papers since the date of the wiki entry). In fact, since my condition was diagnosed as MS in 2002, I have written four books and thirty-odd papers in research journals, as well as receiveing (one of only 120) Distinguished Alumnus Awards of IIT(Madras) from a total of some 40,000 alumni. Not bad for an intellectually and cognitively impaired dude, eh!

Regarding the comment `very limited mobility and requiring significant carer support', you can see from my passports (and from my home-page) that I have, on invitation, lectured and/or attended conferences in UBC, Vancouver, Canada in 2006, Max Planck Institut, Bonn, Germany in 2007, BIRS, Banff, Canada in 2008, Vanderbilt Univ, USA in 2010, Aberystwyth, Wales, UK in 2012, Berkeley, Calif, USA and The Fields Institute, Toronto, Canada in 2013; inside India, I have been doing almost monthly work-related travel to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Bangalore, ... , always with my wife and care-giver, and have never had any health-related incidents in the past ten years and more that my wife and I could not handle, ourselves, as can be seen from copies of the MRI reports that I gave during my medical tests. In fact, in spite of my planned two-week trip to NZ, I have committed to attending conferences/meetings in (i) Bangalore in the first week of December, (ii) Chandigarh in the first week of January, and (iii) back in Chennai in the second two weeks of January.
Very limited mobility?

 As for the `likely NOT ASH' comment, I had certainly anticipated no trouble with a two-week visit to New Zealand, until I was hit by the reality that being an Indian with MS has necessitated my filling visa application forms and stating that I have MS, and facing this mountain of a bureaucratic hurdle. If I was an American with MS, then I would not have needed to fill a visa form, and no one would have  known that I had MS and was potentially `NOT ASH' until I strolled (or rather wheeled) into NZ!

I also attach a scanned and attested copy of a letter from my neurologist in whose concluding paragraph  he certifies that  I `can travel to New Zealand or any other place'. My doctor is Dr. Krishnamoortthy Srinivas, who's letterhead shows that he is:

(a) an Honorary Member of the American Neurological Association;
(b) an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Neurology;
(c) an Honorary Member of the International  Neuropsychiatry Association; and
(d) Regional Advisor to the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Scotland (Tamil Nadu), among other things.

This should certainly qualify as a `medical opinion from a suitably qualified professional' which disputes your original assessment that I am not of an acceptable standard of health', and should go some way towards overriding your MA's verdict. Let me end by saying that I will be very disappointed if this email, with its attachment, do not suffice to let me be issued a visa. In that case, I would be forced to conclude that nobody from India with a condition like MS (not even if he were a Stephen Hawking) would ever be permitted to enter NZ - which would incidentally contravene at least five of the principles (listed below) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, to  which NZ became a signatory on 30th March, 2007!"

I ended the email by quoting the UNCRPD exactly as in the earlier bloodspot referred to above.

December came and went, and we consoled our daughter saying that we would, instead, try to come for her graduation. Then I received  a letter saying bluntly that my application for a visa was being turned down because the medical assessor had decided that I was definitely NOT ASH.

The medical assessors of kiwi-land are apparently far more accomplished and decorated than my doctor to see things in the future that he cannot!

Does being signatory to the UNCRPD carry no obligations? I urge the reader (and the Prime Minister and other dignitaries in the NZ Govt) to review the major principles (also listed out in the earlier blogspot) of the UNCRPD and form an opinion.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan)

According to a recent draft of the National Building Code, "it will be mandatory for all airports and railway stations to have toilets accessible to the disabled. However, this is not mandatory for 14 other kinds of public places including office buildings, cinemas, convention halls, theatres, art galleries, libraries, museums, hotels, restaurants, schools and educational institutions". (This building code would seem to say disabled people need not attend movies or theatre, eat out in restaurants, or even worse, need not go to school or college lest they might want to use a toilet or be fortunate enough to find employment in an office, where they might need to use the toilet during working hours!)

Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan) proclaims that it is the vision of the Government to have an inclusive society where equal opportunities and access is provided for the growth and development of PWDs to lead productive, safe and dignified lives.

It also proclaims an `Action Plan'  which includes the creation of a Steering Committee and Programme Monitoring Unit with representation of Accessibility Professionals and experts; and such experts working in the disability sector are invited to send their particulars with details of experience to the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities or by sending email to mukesh.harvard@gmail.com

If you want to pick a cricket team with a chance of winning anything, do you do so by requesting `experts to send in a bio-data to an appropriate Government Department' or by doing some small homework on who the experts are by asking around? You would find consensus on the best people within a very very short time indeed! If you did that, you would know you have to look no further than Shivani Gupta of AccessAbility or Anjlee Agarwal of Samarthyam, both conveniently located in Delhi. Or if, unlike most decision makers in Delhi, you were prepared to consider the possibility of such expertise existing outside Delhi, you could look up `Disability Rights Alliance' or Bhargav Sundaram of Callidai Motor Works, both in Chennai. (By the way, Bhargav has been sending emails for more than a week now, with serious suggestions to various people in the field trying to put a mechanism in place by which this effort would really be a serious effort rather than just another bit of lip-service; and he seems to have received no official response from Delhi!) If you are really serious about doing what the avowed `Action Plan' above promises, please respond to me. I will give you some email addresses of people to whom this business of accessibility is a very serious matter. You could ask each of them for some names of people doing good work in this area, and you will be surprised at the size of the overlaps of the different lists you will receive.

So in the hope that something clicks, I am posting this in my blog as well as sending an email to the address given above.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Whichche din? Certainly not this month!

The first few days of December have been some of the most nerve-wracking and miserable that it has been my misfortune to live through. The reader of my last post would know I was hoping to go with my wife to New Zealand to be with our daughter for our 25th wedding anniversary, and I was anxiously waiting for the medical assessors of NZ immigration to stop pondering over the weighty matter of the possible implications that giving an Indian with MS a two-week visitor visa might have for the national health or health care facilities and consequently for the national treasury. I had already bought tickets a while ago when they were not prohibitively highly priced, according to which I should have left Chennai not long after midnight on the 8th. When it became clear that I was not going to get an answer one way or the other even on the 4th, I had to cancel our tickets so I wouldn't suffer a heavy loss as a `no show' come flight time on the 8th. That was strike one.

On the other hand, we had come to Bangalore for a conference in Bangalore during the first few days of the month. This had the one positive consequence that we had come away from Chennai when it witnessed the heaviest rains in more than a century and was subjected to unbelievable flooding; roads, railway lines and airport connections to the outside world were all shut down, and the city witnessed  the kind of horror no one would ever want their worst enemy to witness - no power for several days on end, water-logging in streets necessitating rescue teams in dinghys helping to evacuate people from the islands their homes had become, many houses/apartments on the ground floor being inundated with two or three feet deep water.... But the city also witnessed amazing selfless acts day after day to voluntarily help others in distress, and there were no reports of crime of the sort associated to times when there are blackouts. The world heard praises being heaped on the city, and the citizens announced proudly that they were Channaiites! Chennai lost more than 300 lives, a bit more than the fatalities in Paris, and received a minuscule proportion of the bytes the Paris tragedy was showered with by the world media. With further rain forecast for the second week, we have been told to stay in Bangalore for another week and only then come back! Even Chennai airport only started resuming all normal flights on the 7th. So our fond hopes of leaving 7th/8th night for Wellington were stymied by meaningless bureaucratic delays and climate-change induced unprecedented flooding. Strike two!

December 3rd, the International day of Persons with Disabilities, saw another fiasco (this time, a predictable one!) The Prime Minister of India had advertised the inaugration of a grand programme for rendering the country an accessible place for the enormous number of PWD in the country. When I heard about it from my disability activist friends in Delhi, I asked them to check on the accessibility of the venue chosen for this `marquee event'. What I heard from them did little to diminish my fears regarding the true outcome of this scheme announced amid such pomp and glamour. Only the first two rows were accessible to people in wheelchairs, and it was then literallly a case of `devil take the hindmost'. Strike three and you are out!

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Will it be an MSed opportunity

Let me lead up to my pitch with a bunch of seemingly unrelated facts:
  • Some time ago, I had clubbed one of my many academic visits to mathematician friends in Sydney with a brief visit to Auckland and Christchurch in New Zealand. My wife really wanted to visit New Zealand, but I had to disappoint her because my monthly take-home paycheck was nowhere near as healthy then as it is today. 
  • My wife and I will be having our 25th wedding anniversary this December.
  • Our daughter (in fact, only child) has been living in Wellington, New Zealand, where she is pursuing a one year programme at the film school there.
  • So I thought `what better way of killing two birds with one stone' than our spending a few weeks around our wedding anniversary with our daughter, driving around some of this beautiful country and seeing as much of it as we can.
  • The missing ingredient to this pot pourri of facts is that unlike my bank balance, I am not as healthy today as I was when I visited New Zealand without my wife. I got Multiple Sclerosis some twelve years ago, as a result of which I have been operating out of a wheelchair throughout the current decade.


Now, let me put all these ingredients together into my mystery story. My wife and I applied for our visas to enter New Zealand. Somewhere in that application form, I had to mention the fact that I had multiple sclerosis. A week later, I received an email from the Immigration New Zealand office in Mumbai, saying I had to submit complete medical requirements through one of their empaneled doctors. So I go and undergo all these tests - incidentally incurring an expense of around 200 NZD. I sent a scanned copy I received from the hospital to the lady in the INZ office in Mumbai who had set the cat among the pigeons in the first place, incidentally asking how much longer it should take for us to obtain our visas. And her answer is that while the medical reports have been sent to the medical assessor, the normal `turnaround time for receiving the assessment' is 12 WEEKS. (And this is in spite of my having submitted copies of a letter from my doctor (at least twice) to the effect that I was capable of going to New Zealand or anywhere, as I was was traveling with my care-giver (wife). And my doctor is an eminent neurologist of international renown, as is apparent from his letter-head!) I told her that my receiving the reports in 12 weeks - which would take us to some time in February! - would be useless for me, iterating that part of the initial reason for this New Zealand idea was to celebrate a 25th wedding anniversary that fell in mid-December with a daughter now working in New Zealand, and requesting that she put in a special request to the medical assessor. Answer:  `the medical assessor does not entertain any requests'.

Being a moderately accomplished mathematician (see my home-page at  http://www.imsc.res.in/~sunder/), I have traveled to numerous countries, more than once in many cases, and have NEVER applied for a visa more than 4 months ahead of the expected date of travel, nor have I ever had a visa application turned down. If this requirement is being imposed on me for no reason other than my MS - which is not even a contagious disease that will threaten the health of people in the vicinity - then it will be a violation of at least five or six of the following principles enunciated in Article 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (to which convention New Zealand became a signatory on 30 March 2007 according to the Wikipedia):

The principles of the present Convention shall be:

(a) Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one's own choices, and independence of persons;

(b) Non-discrimination;

(c) Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;

(d) Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;

(e) Equality of opportunity;

(f) Accessibility;

(g) Equality between men and women;

(h) Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.

I haven't got to this stage of my life by taking things lying down. I still haven't given up hope of being with our daughter on our wedding anniversary: I am hoping that somebody in New Zealand will see this blogpost and decide to do some disability activism and take up cudgels on my behalf.

By the way, the mystery I was alluding to in this story is how it is going to end: will the good guys win or be thwarted by what can best be described as an unwarranted and unnecessary bureaucracy that refuses to look at the facts and do the only possible decent thing under the circumstances. Nothing in the visa form said I would need to take a medical! The form talks only about people wanting to come for six months or more. I only wish to spend a measly two weeks. I will have overseas medical insurance, and in the unlikely event that my `condition' should manifest itself in another episode, and that my insurance will not pay for this pre-existing condition, I have given enough proof of my financial solvency to show that I can pay for whatever expenses are incurred; and nobody will be left with a a destitute and unwell Indian on their hands! Is there no way a person with MS can travel between international borders?

Friday, 9 October 2015

Why is our mindset naturally negative and non-inclusive?

I have given way to this kind of hyperventilating when writing about my experiences as a wheel-chair user wanting to fly in a commercial aircraft. What never fails to get my goat is how people everywhere assume that the loss of your locomotor functions means the loss of everything else; hey, we can still think, often much more lucidly than the `pitying helper'; we still are sensitive of our rights; we will not tolerate being treated like masses of protoplasm worth nothing but nuisance value.

Let me expand on this gripe. Whenever I travel in a wheelchair, normally accompanied by my wife, some official (officious?) bozo will ask me to wait by the side, and then take her somewhere else to ask her the reason for our being there. Never mind the fact that I am the guy who has filled all the forms - even her's - and that I am much more likely to know the answers to their questions. This always happens at airports; there was a time when I would always insist on being taken where she was. These days, confident that she knows the routine perfectly well, I often give up this cussed insistence on being taken along. I don't mind not insisting when such insistence will mean that somebody will have to push my wheelchair from the point I would have been abandoned to the point she would have been taken to `take care of the business end'. But the last few days were the rock bottom of this kind of treatment. We had gone to have our passports renewed. I had spent the previous few days getting the various papers and xerox copies ready, put them all together in a handy folder before trooping off for this expedition after having ascertained that this particular office (in Saligramam, Chennai) was accessible to my wheelchair - which is battery operated and I do not need anybody to push it, as I can drive it wherever I need to go, if only there are ramps, and elevators have wide enough doors and are roomy enough to take at least one person other than me and my wheelchair (in case of an emergency).

Back to my story: there is a ramp to enter the building from the parking lot, but with an impossibly steep gradient. So, Sekar, my driver and trusted Sancho Panza in all my Quixotic travels/jousts, gets out of the car and helps push my motorised wheelchair up this Himalayan slope, before going back to park our faithful Rosinante until needed again. Once at the top, we are asked the time for which we have been given an appointment and sent accordingly to one (less populated) room. As soon as we go in, up pops this officious uniformed bimbo, who tells us that Sita, my wife, can take all the papers and go to the right to where the lines are, while I am told that I can go to the next room and wait, `not having to worry' about the formalities, which can be taken care of by my wife. It is absolutely useless my saying I know what is where and that it makes more sense for me to take care of the `formalities'. I get sent nevertheless into the next room behind a locked door. It occurred to me a bit later that she shouldn't submit the old passports until the relevant people know that they held US visas valid for a few more years. I had to catch the aforementioned bimbo's eye through the minor chink of visibility afforded by a turnstile there, and make pleading gestures for him to come through the locked door. He came with a look of pained resignation saying she'll take care of things, just stay cool here. When I absolutely insisted, he said `see all the crowds of people; I don't want you to distutb them with your wheelchair'. He finally relented only when I asked him if I had no right to go into any of these rooms just because I was in a wheelchair; but even then, he reluctantly gave in only with a `but don't go bumping into people'.

Once inside, the common public were much more helpful. In fact, I had finished all I had to do and was told I could go home within 45 minutes of entering; but for some strange reason, we had to wait inordinately long for Sita's token numbers to appear on the screen. After the last such wait, she went into some room where she was told that the records showed that she had written in some appliecation form 15 years ago that her parents' names were nothing remotely like their names, and was asked to take some form to an officer in a neighbouring room. This lady stared at the monitor screen for some ten minutes wondering how this could be, and finally suggested that we go to their `back office' two days later and get something done so this would not be a recurring problem and we finally got back home almost four hours after we set out.

Two days later, I had to go with Sita although my passport issues had been resolved, because, owing to some neurological problem, her handwriting has become practically illegible so much so that I have to fill all forms for her. And here we were off again on a pleading mission to allow me and my wheelchair in. Although the office was supposed to open only at 10, we were asked to get there by 9. The Indians are great believers in going early so as to finish early. All that resultts is a huge crowd before the doors are even opened, and they are all trying to rush in as soon as they can. Sita and I were there at 9 as instructed and we went and stood next to the sliding door at the entrance. Even before that door was opened, a guy in a security guard uniform came and suggestdd that I wait in the side because of the crowd and suggested that only Sita go in and finish everything while I wait outside `calmly'. It had  to take an argument with steadily rising decibel levels, finally culminating in my asking him in chaste Tamil if I had no right to enter the room, before I would even be allowed to enter. And when we could finally enter, he first asked Sita and me to enter, asked her to sit on the first of a row of chairs, and asked me to move farther near some counters and away from the chairs `so people could sit comfortabbly'. `Can't I go any bloody place in my wheelchair? Why shouldn't I park my chair next to her chair and sit there?' `Ok, I was only thinking the wheelchair may be in the way of other people'. `Just watch me park it and see if anybody has any trouble going around it!' I must have reacted equally irritatedly to many other such automatically negative reactions from people suggesting I stay put and Sita go in and take care of things `only because you need not be inconvenienced'. Finally my solution was `She needs me as a scribe'. The story has a happy ending however, because we were finally led to a sensible (sensitive?) officer who asked Sita to write a signed letter explaining that an error had mysteriously entred their records in 1998, whereby her parents'  names had been listed as nothing remotely close to their actual names, after which we have been issued passports with no questions asked until this time, and that all six or seven passports issued in the past uniformly announce her parents' names to be what they are, that she has no idea how this erroneous note exists in their files, and could this problem please be rectified and she be issued a new passport? I explained the reason for my presence to the nice man, and then drafted such a letter in my hand-writing, and finally got her signature. He read it, sent Sita somewhere nearby to get the letter and an attendant note by him scanned and told me nicely (!) that I would not need to go and that we could leave in about ten minutes confident that this nuisance would not recur because of notings he had made on the offending file - and I came back to the institute finally by 12.30 to return to my daily routine in my sane and inclusive cocoon of my institute!

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Civic Sense, will you please inhabit the Indian psyche?

What are the solutions to these ills in our society?

People drive through a red light because no other car sems to be making use of a green light?

There are no traffic lights with a green for pedestrians in major intersections?

If at all a city thought it fit to have reserved handicapped parking, some fat jerk, probably with connections among the rich and famous, shamelessly parks his car in one (or maybe even straddling two) of these reserved spots.

Even if a city corporation strives to have usable and wide pavements for the use of pedestrians, some studly motorcycle rider rides his bike up onto the pavement and parks it right across that pavement so no pedestrian can bypass this bike without some gymnastics that would make a Nadia Comenicii proud - people in wheelchairs, BAH!

People park bikes (motorised or otherwise) at the foot of the occasional ramp that might have been provided, thus rendering the ramp useless.

People wanting to turn rignt at an intersection with traffic lights happily wait at the top of the left-most lane, thereby forcing the would be left turner behind him to fret and fume when a free left turn light comes up and consequently being forced to wait as much as five minutes, till the unconditional green light comes around again and the insensitive driver can cut across traffic wanting to go straight, and the luckless left-turner will be permitted to go his way. The amazing thing is that this even happens the other way, with would-be left-turners waiting at the top of the right lane.

Buses are impossible for use by people with visibility or mobility impairment. They typically park briefly some fifty feet past the bus stop and ten feet from the pavement (into the road), and some twenty people run in a mad scramble to merely be able to grab some part of the bus and stand precariously on the steps before the bus zooms away even as people are trying to get on! How far is that from a society where the bus parks exactly in front of the bus stop and the driver lowers a mechanical lift to enable a wheelchair user to get into the bus and then personally comes by and locks the wheelchair into safety belts? How many more centuries before you can ever hope to see that happening in India?

Bottom line: until EVERYBODY respects the rights of EVERYBODY else, there is no use of building ramps, or `changing the very paradigms of skill training in terms of improving the pedagogy, introducing multi-dimensional technology that enables e-content solutions and improving the capacities of Institutions/NGOs offering skill training to PwDs' as a recent article in TOI glibly suggested.

Hon. PM Modiji, can you please stop traipsing all over the world, making grand speeches and initiating any number of new schemes with long Sanskrit names which will usher in the long advertised acche din, and GET REAL and make it possible for people like me to get out of our homes, on to the roads, and lead a `normal life'! While the news blares on and on about swachh bharat,  newspapers carry stories almost every day of people (`of a certain caste') dying due to suffocation by noxious fumes from sewers of shit they have to dive into to unclog them (for the sake of people of `higher' castes, who cannot do this work which is reserved for the aforementioned caste)!