BENGALURU : After being molested three times while travelling by train, Virali Modi raised her voice and started fighting for the rights of the differently-abled people. She started the MyTrainTooCampaign last year, which has garnered 2 lakh signatures on change.org. Her movement has driven 18 stations in Kerala to be made more accessible to the differently-abled. With this, she also initiated the #RampMyRestaurant campaign. Through this campaign, she has spread awareness about the importance of having ramps at restaurants and in the washrooms. The impact of this campaign has been seen and felt at many restaurants in Mumbai. Excerpts:
What is the idea behind hosting events such as Travel Tales? What do you or the people take back from it?
We wanted people, with and without any disability, to talk about their travel stories. This is done to understand what can be done to make their travel better. The main issue is accessibility, which ‘Enable Travel’ takes care of. Travel tales also started with the #RampMyRestaurant campaign, which started last year. We wanted to ensure that restaurants ramp up. Because tourism is a huge part of restaurants, and if you can’t have a decent place to eat, you won’t travel.
And it’s not about choice. Why should we go to a place just because it is accessible? That isn’t our choice. We should have the freedom to go wherever we want to go. There are many restaurants that portray themselves to be accessible-friendly, but are really not. There are fake reviews and fake descriptions of these restaurants on social media. I have been restricted entry into many restaurants that are not differently-abled-friendly. I’m sure it’s happened to other people as well, I don’t want people to go through that. But as far as I know, I’m the only documented source. That’s how #RampMyRestaurant started, in turn, that’s how Travel Tales started.
To be able to hold events at accessible places, to show people that there are places that are accessible, to get together to have a good time, to talk about travel tales and to get together and meet are some of the things we take away from such events. There are similar inclusive meet-ups, but not so vast and widely organised. We want to continue this monthly adventure in different cities all over India, right now we organising it in Mumbai and Bengaluru, and we are planning to also look at other cities.
You did a shoot for Salman Khan’s Being Human campaign...
It was for the Being Human campaign, it is held every year, where they showcase seven individuals that are doing social work. I was selected among the seven, and we shot with Salman Khan wearing the Being Human clothing. We were asked diverse questions according to our campaigns and our issues. It was interesting to know that Salman Khan being whoever he is and doing whatever he has done, is taking a lead on this. He is taking our campaign publicly, which is really important and something we want. It was a wonderful opportunity and I would do it all over again. He’s very charming. He’s informative, focused and determined to understand our cause.
What would have to say about the Black Buck case?
I feel it is hypocritical in a way. I understand the Black Buck shooting is wrong as it is an endangered species. But people are poaching elephants, tigers and eating non-veg. If you don’t think that’s wrong, then how can you think that what he did was wrong? I don’t stand by what he did, I’ll be very clear about this. I don’t stand by his physical abuse, and there are many things I support. But the thing that I understand now is that he is trying to change his social image by doing good work. I think people deserve a second chance.
If he wouldn’t be a celebrity, it would be dusted under the rug. Just because he is a celebrity, one of the leading Khans, he’s in the limelight and his crimes get magnified. But if you think killing an animal is wrong, then why are you eating non-veg? And with regard to his bail - that was obvious and predicted - he is a celebrity. And if he were a layman, he would be rotting in jail. That way, he is privileged. I don’t have anything but love for him. We need to set our priorities straight. If we are talking about crime, then why are rapists roaming free? Why are murderers roaming free? Why not focus on real crimes such as human trafficking, child sexual abuse, rape and female foeticide? We need to find a cure for these people first.
What is the message you’re trying send out people?
I’d like to tell the public one thing —If you see someone in a wheelchair, don’t just go up to them and try and help them. Ask them for their consent, ask them if they want to be helped. Ask them which is the best way to help them. And apart from that, if you go anywhere that is not accessible - how about talking to a manager to make the place accessible? Because today, you might not need one, but in the future, you might. If we do this right now, only then will your future will be secure.
Talk about disability, it’s not a taboo. Talk about things that are considered taboo. Disability is not an ailment, it is quite normal. And normalcy is subjective...but talk about it, let the world know that India needs to be accessible. You need to talk about and demand the change that you want.