CHENNAI: E Kuppuswami (67) would have been like many others who glance through news reports on the ongoing protests by persons with disabilities (PwD). What brought him to Chennai on Wednesday to participate in the protest was a road accident 10 years ago that ruined his hearing.
The loss of one of the senses made him more sensitive to the needs of PwD and it was since then that he began taking part in protests demanding rights for PwD.
He travelled all the way from Gudiyattam town in Vellore district to take part in one of the strongest protests by the PwD community demanding their rights.
On Wednesday night, he was in Rajarathinam stadium, Egmore, where police shifted the protesting PwDs. It was there that he suffered severe chest pain. He died early Thursday in Royapettah hospital where he was taken.
From what his relatives say, his story was a reminder of the thin line between "normal" persons and PwD.
"Around ten years ago, my father met with a road accident. Though we thought he recovered from it, only a few months later we realised that he was losing his hearing," said K Saravanan, Kuppuswami's elder son.
As the shop he was working at before closed in the town, he began taking care of K Veerapandi, who could move only on a wheel chair.
It is not just that he grew sensitive towards needs of PwD, he also started strongly advocating for their rights by participating in protests. "When he learnt I was going to Chennai to participate in the protest, he said he would come along to support us and packed his bag," said K Veerapandi, along with whom Kuppuswami reached Chennai on Wednesday morning, when the four organisations resumed their protest over a set of demands.
Kuppuswami, besides taking care of Veerapandi, would do menial work like cutting grass and managed to make his ends meet. "He never actually bothered about his disability. But always participated actively in protests conducted by PwDs for their rights," says Veerapandi.
On Wednesday, he was arrested near Labour Statue on the Marina along with other protesting PwDs and was moved to the stadium where they continued their protest through the night to Thursday.
"At around 9-30pm, Kuppuswami complained of chest pain and was resting, but within a few minutes he started vomiting blood. We immediately took him to Royapettah Government Hospital by a police van around 10-10pm," said B Radhakrishnan, state secretary,(Tamil Nadu Association for the Rights of All Type of Differetly Abled Caregivers (TARATDAC).
"At around 3.30 on Thursday morning, the doctors said he died. We could not believe it," he added.
While his death was discussed in the State Assembly with a few leaders trying to make mileage out of the issue, the PwDs continued to their protest in the stadium, bearing the shock of the sudden demise of one of them.
The six-point charter of demands includes a judicial probe into non-implementation of 3 per cent job reservation in the State for PwDs, 40 per cent hike in monthly allowances for PwDs like in other states, removal of the criterion that only orphans will be get benefits and also provide 100 houses for the differently abled in all districts.