Saturday, May 21, 2005

India Encourages You To Be Handicapped

Yes, I do mean handicapped, and not “differently-abled,” because that’s the meaning I’m talking about--disadvantaged, at a loss.

This country is thoughtless--if not cruel--to people with physical problems: those who have a cast on the leg, those who depend on crutches or wheelchairs to get about, the elderly, and mothers with little babies.

The last category is where I'm coming from at this point. Leave alone the usual problems that a mom has to face--Will my baby be OK for two hours? Should I take along her milk and her water or will just water be enough? Should I pack a snack, too? What if she wants to sleep and starts crying? Etc.--Mama has more obstacle races to run.

For how long can she carry her baby? Not long, so she's invested in a pram. But this is India, darling, of what use is a pram when you have to climb a flight of stairs? Because you'll see stairs everywhere you go--public offices, shopping areas, cinema halls... How do you get up the stairs with a baby and a pram? Don't tell me about the ease of one-hand-unfold prams; they're a sales gimmick: try carrying a baby in one arm and unfolding the pram with the other--if you can do this comfortably, I bow to you.

What you can do is this. Request a kind soul at the bottom of the stairs to hold Baby for you; fold the pram and haul it upstairs; request another kind soul (who also needs to be trustworthy--and you have to make lightning-fast judgments about this, or you'll have a missing pram, or worse, a missing baby) to keep an eye on the pram while you go down and bring your baby.

You're forced to depend on people. And if something goes wrong, the only person to blame is you. For trying to be independent.

At least the above situation is possible to get through OK. But what about people in wheelchairs? India says, "Stay at home, you wretch, and get somebody else to do your work for you--if they have the time and are willing." You can forget about dignity once you grow beyond a certain age.

But some of the new shopping malls have been considerate.
Shopper's Stop has a ramp beside the stairs at the entrance--at least, the one at Magrath Road, Bangalore, does. If you go there just notice how many people use the ramp--even 'normal' people and kids like to walk up that gentle slope. When I entered the Shopper's Stop at Kandivili (W), Mumbai, I was pleasantly surprised to see a pram as soon as I entered--it was for the convenience of moms, the assistant told me. This is good business sense. Think of the number of babies born every day, and the number of mothers who are longing to get out of the house and go shopping if they could just take their babies along without having to lug a pram around.

Even if you did bother to carry a pram, and had a friend along to replace the kind soul who holds your baby, you want to avoid the Big Bazaar on Hosur Road, Bangalore, unless your friend happens to be He-man. Because there are long staircases, and no lifts, so get what you want on the ground floor, and leave, thank you for shopping at Big Bazaar, please come again (Never!).

And of course you can't possibly get by on your own if you fit into any of the categories listed in the first paragraph and want to use the Indian public transport. No Indian bus provides a ramp for wheelchairs; you'll have to count yourself very lucky if the bus waits for you to board because you're old (even 45 is 'old' enough, unless you're a fitness freak) and find it difficult to run to where the bus has stopped (it never stops at the bus stop; always a little ahead or a little before) and push your way through the crowd and if necessary, jump onto the bus as it starts moving.

The local trains in Mumbai pretend to be considerate: they have a separate compartment allotted for the "Handicapped". But who's to say that you are truly handicapped and not just a pretender trying to get in because the other compartments are full to popping? Not you, definitely. You need a medical certificate, pal!

My husband boarded this compartment when he had had an accident and was limping around for weeks with a slow-healing and crepe-bandaged foot. He managed to hobble fast enough to get into the compartment, but not out of it. The fellows inside asked him for a certificate. He pointed to his foot, and started to explain. They said, Do you have a certificate or not? He said, No, but... No buts, they said, and pushed him off the train. Luckily, the train hadn't yet picked up speed.

This is a country that caters only to the young, the fit, the clever, and preferably, the male. Traditions and culture be damned, modern India has forgotten the value of its senior citizens--our elders. It forces feelings of despair and helplessness on the people who built what this country is proud of today.


Percy said...

Yeah, this is a terrible problem in India. I'd seen a handicapped person in a station once and he struggled through a gate. I had to help him. I'm sure he felt quite helpless, which is really a terrible feeling to have. In the US, every place that you go to has access for the handicapped people. It's starting to happen in the newer places in India, but it's slow.

Amrit said...

Hi Hash!

I didn't know you publish a blog...came here through percy's link. Excellent post.


Anita said...

You spoke about something even I feel very strongly about Hash. I volunteered in a Blind School in the US and was always thrilled with the environment created in the society for people with disabilities. I saw the amount of confidence it instills in them and also creates a sense of self worth when they are not discriminated. The idea is of social inclusion there.

Here in India we goto great lengths to seperate and segregate the so called Handicapped people from mainstream society. But I can see some meagre change in the cities. What we need though is a movement to change the way things are here. And we need more people like you who speak out. Thanks!

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