CHENNAI: The persons with disabilities (PwDs) are a disgruntled bunch, and rightfully so. This year’s Central Rail Budget has referred to this group of people as ‘divyang’ (divine body or holy limbs) and no one seems to know who this refers to. Though the Centre has used this term to refer to PwD, the group is having none of it, having protested about it before. In fact, a huge cross-section of disability activists across the country have been calling for scrapping the insensitive usage of the term, even writing to the Prime Minister on the issue.
Speaking about this, Meenakshi Balasubramanian of Equals asserts, “We are against being called Divyang and the budget mentions only this term and not ‘Persons with Disabilities’. So effectively, there is nothing for PwDs...this is regressive and it needs to stop!”
“What is so divine about this (Divyang)? If there is a god, why did he make us like this? We abandon such a god,” fumes Deepak Nathan, founder of the December 3 movement. A point which both activists make is that disability is “more than just limbs”. What about people with psychosocial disabilities or autism? “Physical disability alone does not constitute disability. The Railway administration has been insensitive in this regard,” he points out. Meenakshi concurs and adds that not being able to do something due to impairments or restrictions in public life also constitutes disability.
But this isn’t the only thing that has caused furore in the group. While an Equals press release wants to know why wheelchair services are designed as paid services, Deepak want to know why these services cost more than the ticket itself in some cases. “With concession, a ticket from Chennai to Tirunelveli may cost `110. But if you avail wheelchair services at both stations, it’s `130 (`65 at each station). That’s more than the ticket cost itself!”
Taking a dig at the rail budget, which promises at least one Divyang-friendly toilet at each platform in A1 class stations during the next financial year, Deepak asks, “They started Swachh Bharat and even collect a cess for it. Why can’t they provide a toilet for us in every station? Why only A1 stations?”
Accessibility is still an issue for the disabled. For instance, to get to platforms 5, 6 and 7 at the Egmore railway station, PwDs cannot take the battery-operated cart — they have to use only wheelchairs. Ironically, even accessibility to the disabled coach is tough. “And that is the last coach. You are including us in a way that excludes us. Even the disability coach is not PwD-friendly,” avers Deepak. Further, he wonders why facilities like accessible toilets cannot be provided by the corporates as part of their corporate social responsibilites (CSR).