Monthly Archives: November 2006

Is Mumbai ready to include the excluded?

Every year the world celebrates International Day for Disabled Persons on December 3. The celebration of this day gives me a reason to create this post. I am somehow against the term “disabled”. Having a limitation does not disable them but differently ables them from performing a certain task. So I choose to use the term “differently abled” because disability is all in the mind.

The question here is “How differently abled friendly is Mumbai?”

Mumbai may be a Shanghai in the making but not for all. According to the Government of India statistics, 5 per cent of Mumbai’s population suffers from some disability. This 5 per cent is often given low priority or are excluded from official statistics. Many forms of disability are difficult to capture in statistics, often due to under-reporting. Differently abled persons are often excluded from school or the workplace and are forced to depend on others in the family and community for physical and economic support. The limitations of the differently abled persons are misunderstood and they are considered as non-productive persons.

There are many parameters where the differently abled are included as well as excluded.


The BEST, Indian Railways and all airlines provide special concessions for the differently abled.

BEST buses have only 3 seats reserved for them with very little legroom. Differently abled persons often complain of the steps being too high. That is when the BEST came to their rescue by introducing Starbus which has a low floor and a ramp. This new feature has come as a saviour but the numbers of Starbuses plying on the road are very few. However, the Starbus does not have a wheel-chair lock facility so that the wheel-chair remains stationary even thought the bus is moving. But the differently abled’s woes do not begin here. Waiting for buses is another nightmare as most bus-stops do not have seating arrangements.

Indian Railways has a separate compartment reserved for the differently abled but how many of them can actually find such compartments? There is neither a fixed location for the compartment nor there is any indication on the platform. One obviously cannot expect a differently abled person to run around looking for their designated compartment. Before getting onto the platform, buying a ticket and waiting in the serpentine queues is very difficult. Climbing foot-over-bridges and subways is another gigantic task for them. Also, the distance from the train to the platform is high. Hence, most of them avoid travelling by trains. For outstation train travelling, the Railways has been a little easy on them by providing a separate queue for booking tickets and are the preference for lower berths. In addition, there is special concession to one escort. Differently abled people suggest installing ‘ambulifts’ (platforms designed to accommodate a wheelchair that can be elevated by the press of a button) or a ramp instead of staircases. This will not only help them but also senior citizens and people carrying heavy luggage.

Airports are supposed to provide wheel-chairs but more often than not, they have to struggle their way to the aircraft. In the aircraft, the facility of a differently abled chair is absent.

Taxis and auto rickshaws are very uncomfortable owing to the limited leg space. In the private automobile sector, Maruti recently unveiled ‘Solio’, a disabled friendly car at the 8th Auto expo. However, Maruti is yet to decide if ‘Solio’ will be launched or not. Other Car manufacturers are planning to come up with similar models but the market for such cars is not very lucrative, but in order to make it so the government could give some benefits to the manufacturers.

Infrastructure and architecture:

Roads and footpaths are uneven because of the constant digging by different companies such as the MCGM, MTNL, Bharat Gas and so on. Footpaths in some areas are either missing, encroached by hawkers or are just too high. Differently abled persons avoid foot-over-bridges and subways to avoid climbing stairs. Many important junctions and busy roads do not have signals installed for pedestrian safety. Differently abled persons feel that the duration of the signal is so less that it does not give them sufficient time to reach the other side of the road.

In places of worship, the approach roads are encroached. There are many steps thus making it almost impossible for the differently abled to reach to the top.

In most places, staircases do not have railings till the end of the flight of stairs which makes it even more difficult for them to climb. Differently abled persons feel that very little modifications can be done to alter old constructions but at least the new constructions could be more sensitive towards their needs.

Public toilets are definitely not designed to suit their needs. They are not equipped with grab-bars and anti-skid flooring.


Fortunately, malls are well-equipped with sufficient wheel-chairs, escalators and elevators, thus making it easy for the differently abled persons.

Most tourist spots in the city are old structures and not all of them have ramps to accommodate wheel-chairs. Most staircases are steep and high and there is no provision for escalators and elevators. Even if there are elevators, admission is reserved only for employees. Some of the tourist spots even do not have adequate seating arrangements. Amusement parks and water parks do not cater to the differently abled segment. They do not have any rides or pools specially designed for them.

Most tour operators have custom-made tour packages for the differently abled but the schedules are so tight that they often complain of exertion. Also, these tours are enormously expensive.


Most differently abled persons often face humiliation as person constantly label them for their limitations and shortcomings. They are looked down upon my society. Most of them have experienced exclusion and oppression all their lives. They have been belittled by the attitude of people who do not believe that even differently abled persons want to achieve their dreams and aspirations. There needs to be an education system that is inclusive rather than segregationist since children who study in special schools are over-protectively nurtured and unprepared to take on the world. Activists feel that sending such children to regular educational institutions is the best way to prepare them for the normal world. Though there are many organizations that work towards the welfare of such persons most of the organizations do not provide emotional support. Differently abled persons do not have the benefit of an equivalent of a Nana-Nani park where they can interact with similar people.

In India, the term ‘barrier-free environment’ has come into use only in the last decade. The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, commonly known as the Disability Act, enforced in 1995 acknowledge the need for easy access to services and public places. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, takes up the matter of barrier-free environs with the Ministry of Urban Development once every four months at an inter-ministerial council meet. Most of these people are unaware of their rights and hence do not fight for them.

A few examples to create a barrier-free environment for the differently abled could be:

  • Marking the first and last steps on a stair flight with contrasting paint
  • Anti-skid rubber mats in bathrooms
  • Anti-skid floors in public places
  • Sufficient seating arrangement and wheel-chairs
  • No thresholds in doorways
  • Grab bars in rooms and in trains
  • Proper ramps and ambulifts in public places
  • Better signage including Braille signage
  • Separate queues at places that require a ticket.
  • Providing support to help them help themselves.

On the whole the differently abled persons in Mumbai are denied equal access to information, education, employment, buildings and public transportation.

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You see them everywhere for cheap, FM pocket radios, batteries, CDs, floppies, torches, keychains, pens, pencils, erasers, glue, note-books, combs, tooth-brushes, mirrors, knives, spoons, forks, toys, writing pads, staplers, paper-clips, hair clips, sewing kits, show pieces, curios, etc.

These are just a few goods. Indian markets are filled with the influx of these goods. But do you know where these goods are coming from?

The goods are coming from China. They are made by Chinese prisoners and Tibetan hostages who live in inhumane conditions and are exploited. The returns obtained from these goods go to the Government of China whereas the workers get a minimal wage that is insufficient to satisfy their basic needs.

On the other hand, Indian small-scale industries and cottage industries manufacture the same goods that are of a better quality for a slightly higher price. The people working in these industries belong to the lower economic strata of society and their goods are not selling due to the influx of Chinese goods in the Indian market and the industries are dying with poverty and unemployment on the rise. Hence,



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The Undiscovered Reality

Earlier, ‘Tsunami’ was just a word for me. But now it is an experience…

It was a privilege for me to be one among the chosen four to represent Maharashtra at the Tsunami Rehabilitation Work Camp. This camp was held from 20th May to 5th June, 2005 at Chennai and Nagapatinam village which was organized by the All India Catholic University Federation, (AICUF) in collaboration with an NGO called South Asian People’s Initiative (SAPI). I participated in the camp because although I heard lots about the Tsunami and the relief work but being geographically far away I was unable to comprehend the gravity of the situation. The camp would give me a first-hand experience and an opportunity to understand the survivors by stepping into their shoes. Through this camp I was personally able to contribute towards the rehabilitation efforts by devoting my time for a worthy cause. 35 participants froma all over India were divided into three groups to work in three villages namely Puddupetai, Perumalpetai and Kodiyakadu in Nagapatinam district. I was posted at Puddupetai village.

On the first two days, we were briefed on the scientific and psycho-social aspects of the Tsunami, the difference between relief and rehabilitation and about how women, children, students and Dalits are affected by the Tsunami. This orientation was done in order to inform us on what to expect when we go to the villages.

In the villages, we stayed in shelters constructed by a Delhi based NGO just like the villagers. The shelters are made, of bamboos and tar sheets which do not provide any ventilation. They are very small and can comfortably accommodate only 6 – 8 people. There is place neither for a kitchen nor for storing clothes and utensils. There was only a bulb in each shelter and we lived without fans in the scorching summer heat. Each group took along with them brooms, sickles, crowbars, rakes, spades, gamelas, buckets, mugs, plates, tumblers and mats. In the absence of toilets, we took our buckets to the fields to relieve ourselves in the open with weeds and flies bothering us all the time. This was an extremely difficult task. We had to pump water from a bore­well because there were no taps. We used that water for bathing and washing. The water had become very salty and our washed clothes had a layer of salt on them. We had an extra shelter so the girls had the ‘luxury’ of a bathroom while the boys had to draw water from a well and bathe there.

We met the village head and as directed, we performed the tasks assigned to us. Playgrounds outside Balwadis were being used by the villagers as dumping grounds. We cleared all the garbage and restored the playgrounds. It was rather strange to see the villagers complain about not, having a place of worship because they defecated and disposed garbage inside the temple. We cleaned the temple and made it useful The seashore is lined with tall and thorny shrubs and spiky shells which enter the flesh of a person if stepped onto them. When the Tsunami occurred, people especially women and children could not escape because their long hair and saris got entangled in the shrubs. We dumped the shells and the shrubs into a pit and covered it. People were disposing garbage into a canal that supplied water to the fields making it a sewage canal. We spent two whole days removing the garbage so that water could flow freely. Soon after, it was very disheartening to see a lady dump garbage into it right before us.

There was a cyclonic rain and the water entered the villager’s houses. They panicked as they thought that another Tsunami had occurred. People were scared because it was 26th May and coincidently the Gujarat earthquake occurred on 26th January and the Tsunami on 26th December. With our implements, we immediately made a path to drain the excess rainwater. Since we became wet while doing this, the villagers offered us dry clothes to wear.

We visited the members of the Dalit community. The Dalit village is secluded from the main village. Post Tsunami, each family was given just one sack of rice which got over very fast. They also got Rs. 4000 which was spent in reconstructing their houses while some women complained that the money was squandered on alcohol by the men folks. They do not own any land thus they work on other people’s land. Now they are unemployed because after the Tsunami the agricultural land has a thick layer of salt rendering it useless for the next 5 years. They support themselves by doing menial jobs. Their children die of starvation and malnutrition due to poverty. In some places, women were denied their share of relief materials under the pretext of having lesser physical strength than men.

We received immense support from the villagers. During our work, they kept drinking water for us. They also offered us tea, coffee, cold-drinks and food. Though they had little, they were very hospitable and gave us the best they could afford. The villagers taught us generosity.

From this camp, I learnt how to live in the most basic human conditions it taught me simple living because I am blessed with comforts at home. At the end of the day, I knew I had a house to go back to but these villagers would have to live like this forever. It has sensitized me towards the discrimination of the marginalized sections of society. I was indifferent about the sufferings of the tsunami survivors but now I can connect with reality. This camp has taught me the dignity of manual labour. We should also be sensitive to people’s needs and cultures. I feel that if I could live with ­minimum human conditions, I can live anywhere in the world. Ultimately, life prevails and all that comes out of life prevails despite any calamity.


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