India doesn't lack the money, the knowledge, the infrastructure or the power. What it lacks is a VISION. A vision to see that everyone enjoys the RIGHT TO EQUALITY and the most basic right - RIGHT TO LIFE with DIGNITY. Though it is written in our Constitution, it is not engraved in our minds. What our mind speaks is the language of power and the language of 'ignorance is bliss’. Is Disability really an impairment of the body or the impairment of the society to be inclusive of them?
This is the question that 15 physically challenged children from Guwahati had to face when they reached Guwahati Railway Station on 18th November, 2012. They had been invited to perform a play – Buddhuram– at the Jashne Bachpan Festival, 2012 organised by the National School of Drama in New Delhi on 20th November, 2012. Part of the troupe, with sparkles in their eyes and an excitement to showcase their ‘ability’ in the midst of mindless thoughts of disability, reached the station only to have let down that enthusiasm. Guwahati Railway Station (classified as Grade A) did not have the basic facilities to meet the needs of these 15 children who had a tough time reaching, boarding and travelling in Sampark Kranti Express to Delhi.
Shishu Sarothi, a city-based centre for rehabilitation and training for multiple disability, who accompanied the children found that the station was not disabled friendly with no lift or ramp and the train parked at the furthest possible platform. They were taken through the route which is used to tow hand carts with luggage to be loaded onto the trains through unmanned tracks. Even after reaching the platform, the questions kept coming – how does one get into the train? Where can they comfortably keep their wheelchairs? How do they use the bathroom which many of us don’t even dare to open? All this is not only inaccessible but unsafe for them in many ways.
This is not just the story of one group of differently abled individuals or one railway station. It is the same story across the country. While the world is advancing at a fast pace, we urge the government to not slow-down in making every place ACCESSIBLE and DISABLED FRIENDLY. The Railway Ministry ought to take steps at the earliest to make railways disabled friendly and to provide infrastructure so that the differently abled can travel with comfort. It’s high time that ‘Inclusive’ is the word to be used in our vocabulary very often!
The Indian Railways are not fully disabled friendly and lacks the basic infrastructure for the differently abled to travel safely and comfortably. Even on Grade A1 stations like the Guwahati Railway Station, considering that they have all the amenities for persons with disabilities, when 15 physically challenged children had to travel to Delhi, they had to face innumerable difficulties to reach the platform, to board the train and to travel in the train. There was no pathway for wheelchair , the railway station was also unable to provide adequate number of wheelchairs required to ferry the children, there was no provisions of lifts or ramps that would take the children to their respective coaches. Moreover, there is no toilet for persons with disabilities in the entire railway station. Similar is the story for many differently abled people across the country who travel by Indian Railways. This is not only inaccessible to them but also unsafe as well as vulnerable to many accidents.
We urge the Indian Railway Ministry and Railway Board to take immediate steps towards protecting their rights and to make the railway service inclusive. The Persons with disabilities (Equal opportunities, Protection of Rights & Full Participation ) Act, 1995 (PWD) under Chapter VIII has the following provisions:
• Section 44: Non-discrimination in transport : Establishments in the transport sector shall, within the limits of their economic capacity and development for the benefit of persons with disabilities, take special measures to-
a) Adapt rail compartments, buses, vessels and aircrafts in such a way as to permit easy access to such persons;
b) Adopt toilets in rail compartments, vessels, aircrafts and waiting rooms in such a way as to permit the wheelchair users to use them conveniently.
• Section 46: Non-discrimination in the built environment: The appropriate governments and the local authorities shall, within the limits of their economic capacity and development, provide for-
a) Ramps in public buildings;
b) Adaptation to toilets for wheelchair users;
c) Braille symbols and auditory signals in elevators or lifts;
d) Ramps in hospitals, primary health centres and other medical care and rehabilitation institutions.
United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) to which India is a signatory, under Article 9 speaks about accessibility for persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in Urban and in Rural areas.
The convention also casts obligations on the State parties to take measures to:
a) Develop, promulgate and monitor the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services open or provided to public;
b) Ensure that private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public take into account all aspects of accessibility for persons with disabilities;
c) Provide training for stakeholders on accessibility issues facing persons with disabilities;
d) Provide in buildings and other facilities open to the public signagae in Braille and in easy to read understand forms;
e) Promote other appropriate forms of assistance and support to persons with disabilities to ensure their access to information.
In spite of the above laws and provisions, persons with disability continue to face discrimination, an example of which is the above mentioned incident. We urge the government to implement the provisions mentioned in the PWD Act and UNCRPD in order to protect the rights of people with disability. The government ought to take urgent action towards making Indian Railways disabled friendly and to ensure safety and comfort for the differently abled during their travel.