Accessible India Campaign? No country for the differently-abled
I am Fateh Mohit Whig, age 19 and a law student at Panjab University. I am the son of late Major Mohit Whig, who died fighting terrorists in Kashmir in 1997. I was born with spina bifida that is a congenital spinal disorder. I function from a wheelchair because the deformity has rendered me inactive below the waist with other linked complications. I live in Chandigarh, widely branded as ‘City Beautiful’.punjab Updated: Sep 25, 2016 11:25 IST
I am Fateh Mohit Whig, age 19 and a law student at Panjab University. I am the son of late Major Mohit Whig, who died fighting terrorists in Kashmir in 1997. I was born with spina bifida that is a congenital spinal disorder. I function from a wheelchair because the deformity has rendered me inactive below the waist with other linked complications. I live in Chandigarh, widely branded as ‘City Beautiful’.
India aspires to sup at the world’s high table by 2025. But sadly, despite visible improvement in the standard of living in this country, the differently abled have so far been excluded in the march towards a ‘developed nation’ though it is a signatory to the UN Charter on Rights of the Disabled.
Our Prime Minister started the ‘Accessible India Campaign’ through which each state will be made disabled-friendly with 50-100 buildings every year. This includes disabled-friendly public transport and other facilities such as washrooms, eateries and entertainment hubs. The first phase was scheduled to be completed by July 2016 but nothing has transpired in this regard. It took a visit by renowned scientist Stephen Hawking for the government to realise that he couldn’t visit tourist sites in Delhi unless they had ramps. The visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra was called off because even makeshift ramps could not be assembled.
‘Accessible’ is a term that our bureaucrats need to learn if they want to bring ‘achhe din’ for those who sit in wheelchairs. Chandigarh, the first ‘planned’ city in India does not provide as rosy a picture for us. Be it a trip to the market, a visit to the park or the much-feted PVR at Elante Mall (where I have to suffer the indignity of being carried up to my seat), none of these places cater to the disabled in Le Corbusier’s architectural gift to India. Panjab University, one of the most ‘prestigious’ universities, is still not fully accessible by a wheelchair. A simple activity of getting a cup of coffee becomes an ordeal and embarrassment for me in the absence of ramps and elevators.
Delhi, India’s national capital, including Lutyen’s Delhi is similar to Chandigarh in the sense that no park is wheelchair accessible. I once decided to visit Khan Market with my family. It is a spiffy marketplace mostly catering to expats. However, I was appalled to discover that most eateries on the first floor did not have a ramp or lift available. This is what ‘Saddi Dilli’ is all about – a ‘world-class’ city totally devoid of facilities for the handicapped. One incident at the Indira Gandhi International Airport left me shocked. The security staff frisking me insisted that I stand though I could not. Indians can be so crass and insensitive.
However, a campaign called PUFF (Push-ups for Fateh) by my father’s long-time Australian friend Brigadier Bill Sowry, Australia’s defence attache to UK then, raised 25,000 pounds that covered all expenses for my travel, treatment and stay for a month at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. I could go anywhere without depending on anyone. Be it a market or travelling in a tram, Australia showed me that they cared.
I am deeply concerned that no government post Independence has seriously worked to support and empathise with the differently abled. Most differently abled government schemes are poorly advertised and remain hugely undersubscribed. It’s important to strengthen the differently-abled among the poor and not let them be condemned to leading a life of misery and neglect. I hope, one day, we feel emboldened to move around freely and lead a less confined life with our heads held high instead of feeling like the children of a lesser God.