A Little Empathy Please
Coming back to warm, hospitable, over solicitous India was magical! Just over a decade ago- back from my study work stint in the US of A- and I was ready to conquer the world! Little had I imagined how drastically one disastrous split second could change my life. An accident to a dear one in my life.
Yes India is hospitable to all and sundry. But not to wheelchairs. Have you noticed how people on wheelchairs seldom go out in this country? How they cannot nearly ever use public spaces? How they actually hibernate and hide at home as a result? However a person close to me, a state level sportsman, a sports star from his college days, when he was hit with spinal injury, was not about to be stuck indoors. Wheelchair or no wheelchair. He was tenacious, optimistic, rambunctious and an outdoor man in every way.
It was my first horrific tryst with the insensitivity that is India.
Never before had I encountered the rude fact that Indians are intrinsically very not empathetic, most oblivious also to the special features necessary in public spaces and also public transport to accommodate wheelchairs.
My white cause cannot be anything else but wheelchair accessibility. I cannot recount how many times I’ve been frustrated at airports.
Here I am - five foot eight, ‘glamorous’, confident, ‘in control’, confident, just crumbling in a public place totally unable to grapple with the deadpan complacency and the insensitive refusal of these people to understand my trauma. Yes, trauma at the lack of compassion and understanding. I mean how can someone who has not been through life’s trials ever even understand what it is to live life on a wheelchair?
To fight with insensitive security personal only to be thought ‘overwrought’, to grapple unbending staff of building projects who say ‘a ramp will ruin the landscape’!
Here I am discussing something so raw and painful, and Mr Panda is worried about ‘landscape’?? At another time I am trying to convince an unmoving cinema manager at Sterling Cinema of special needs of wheelchair persons and he is fixing his hair in his reflection on a window-looking distinctly bored. And then I find myself dealing with bureaucratic airline staff about safety while handling the wheelchair, when they placate me condescendingly looking toward my wallet suggestively.
My good friend Manish Maker who also has a relative close to him using a wheelchair confided how he nearly always ensures that his brother lives mostly in America to assure him of a good quality of life, where there are ramps, special wheelchair parking spaces, broad doors to enter public spaces, lifts at multileveled spaces and MOST importantly, restrooms. Is it not just the most basic requirement to have wheelchair accessible restrooms?
We’re said to be the fastest growing economy after China, becoming a world class super power, an important nation with a place soon on the United Nations Security Council, but I have to say that we have no concept or understanding about being a sensitive, caring, wheelchair accessible nation. And this is my only, greatest, most important white cause for 2011 onward and every year that I live beyond. My mission for the rest of my life in India.
Take a bow Sanjay Leela Bhansali for bringing some notice to the cause of Wheelchairs.
In nearly every other country when a wheel chair person needs to use the lift, because other options are scant, people disembark to make way for the person on the wheelchair.
In my last apartment block, among the affluent of Bombay, Casablanca- I had to fight my entire building society alone because they were too insensitive to understand that a wheelchair person might need to use the lift as priority. It was held against me when I took the liberty to inform the one person in the lift that they might have other options like the stairs but the person on the wheelchair did not presently have the choices that are available to them. They were aggressive and outraged and insisted on 'first come first serve' very self-righteously.
It all starts with our general lack of concern for human life in this country.
Taking a wheelchair as a cause, but the root of the problem lies much deeper, in our lack of concern and compassion for fellow human beings. This insensitivity to the differently abled is just one very apparent facet of the deeper social malaise.
It is every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.
The desire to bring about change is a very important mission in my life today, and the hope comes from relatively few but fortunately growing tribe of concerned and empathetic human beings that one comes across such as a friend who chose an apartment in a building only after checking that it was wheel chair accessible.
A restraunter who redid his elevator to make it large enough for a wheelchair. The business house where he is part of that despite having its headquarters in a heritage building attached wheelchair lifts to their heritage stone steps; a well known entrepreneur and friend who ensured wheelchair accessibility in every industrial facility , hotel and restaurant he built after ‘touching’ our lives. Those many gracious co passengers who unstintingly came forward to help when our poorly equipped Indian airports that nearly never have aerobridges.
My white cause is also my resolution that I shall prioritize and awaken AID – Access for Individuals with Disability, an organization that we formed some years ago, spearheaded by Manish, and address the government, builders, and people in general, to urge them to incorporate physical change as well as change in their attitude toward wheelchairs. To empower the direction we have taken, called ‘Divide and conquer’ where each member of the group formed under AID, shall address different areas of concern.
To create a change and bring about metamorphosis with Ramps, Transport where there are always problems at railways where a wheelchair passenger cannot get into compartment, airports, Aerobridges, Narrow Doors and passages, Public Restrooms,, Special parking restrooms,, entertainment (cinemas, restaurants, hotels), policy (working with government lobbying to change legislation and make wheelchair accessibility in public spaces mandatory all over India, even in Villages.
Photo Courtsey L'official
Nisha JamVwal firstname.lastname@example.orgTweet Nisha @nishjamvwal
This article was published in L'official