Why is there such a hoo-ha over a two day-event? This is how it is for us differently-abled athletes all the time. Now that the country knows of our plight, what are they going to do to ensure this doesn’t happen next year?’ This is what a livid — and dejected — Deepa Malik, the first Indian woman to win a medal in the 2010 Para Asian Games in China, said after reports surfaced about the substandard facilities provided to 1,200 differently-abled athletes at the 15th National Para-Athletic Championships in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh.
The athletes were put up in unfurnished and unhygienic accommodations, with no fans, dirty toilets, no water and no ramps for wheelchair-bound athletes. Ms Malik’s outburst is unsurprising: Differently-abled people are routinely treated like second-class citizens in this country. From attaining education to securing a job to being able to just move around the city and have a regular life these are all huge challenges for an average differently-abled Indian.
According to the 2011 census, the number of disabled, which was 21.9 million in 2001, rose to 26.8 million in 2011. Most of the disabled are those with movement disability (20.3%), followed by hearing impaired (18.9%) and visually impaired (18.8%). Nearly 5.6% of the disabled population is mentally challenged, a classification introduced in the last census. Government guidelines say that rail compartments, vessels and aircraft must have easy access for wheelchair-bound people; there should be auditory signals at traffic lights for the visually impaired; curb cuts and slopes in pavements for wheelchairs users; engraving on surface of zebra crossing; appropriate symbols of disability and warning signals at appropriate places, but implementation of these directives is lax. A new law, The Right of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014, is pending in Parliament. This Bill confers several ‘rights’ and entitlements to disabled persons, including disabled-friendly access to all public buildings, hospitals, modes of transport and polling stations. The question that is being raised now is whether it is appropriate for Parliament to impose legal and financial obligations on states and municipalities with regard to disability, which is a subject on the State List.
The Ghaziabad incident came to light primarily because it happened in an urban area. But hundreds of such stories of discrimination can be found all over India. The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members, and on that count India has once again failed them miserably.