Strat. In warmly welcomes Harshad Karandikar – a student from IIM Kozhikode on our rapidly expanding author base.
I am Harshad Karandikar, a passionate blogger, traveler, nature lover, a bit of a photographer and a half a dozen other things which I keep forgetting. I am a student at IIM Kozhikode, and this is my first post here. A stint abroad has made me introspect on quite a few things around me, and this post deals with one of these things which I feel strongly about.
Why, as a nation, as a society, as individuals, are we so callous to the plight of our disabled?
A week or so in Germany, and I was wondering, why are there so many disabled people on the streets? People bound to wheelchairs, blind people, people on crutches, they seemed a common sight, a tad too common for me. I saw them quite often in public, crossing streets, walking on the sidewalks, getting on and off trains, and getting on with their lives like everybody else. A few more days, and I was crossing the street in the square below my apartment, watching a wheelchair bound guy crossing the street at his own pace, when, like the sudden realization of a ghastly fact, it struck me. There aren’t more disabled people in Germany. It’s just that, unlike back home, they are given the chance to live life as normally as possible.
It is an abominable act of cruelty, apathy and incredible indifference, the way we marginalize the lesser privileged sections of our society. The very people who need to be given a helping hand and brought into the mainstream, are being shut out of our cities, our roads, our glitzy malls, and just about each and every public area we can think of. For the disabled in our society, it is akin to being under permanent house arrest. It is inordinately silly to imagine a wheelchair bound person attempting to travel in any of our cities. It is a stretch of our imagination to think of them crossing a busy street, negotiating a sidewalk, or even entering or leaving a building. Just how do you, pray, leave a building which has no lifts, no ramps, nothing but a cramped staircase, in a wheelchair? Just how do you cross a street which has huge concrete blocks as dividers, reduced so sensitively to just a couple of feet for pedestrians to cross? Just how do you reach that divider when there is an angry mob of vehicles snapping at our zebra crossings, revving, pushing, snarling at anybody who stays for a moment longer, who doesn’t get out of the way, who makes them wait that extra second? And how do you even reach that street in the first place, with sidewalks having sudden rises and dramatic falls and being taken over by just about every individual who has no right to be there? So, they don’t. They don’t cross the streets, they don’t travel on the sidewalks, they don’t even come out of their houses, enduring a lifetime of imprisonment and loneliness and marginalization.
And before we raise the inevitable – and sickeningly disgusting – excuse of ‘them’ being developed nations with enough money to take care of these things, and we being not, I would say – most of these things take not money, but just a more sensitive and disciplined approach. It does not take money to stop at a zebra crossing or a red light – just the sensitivity that there are entities called as pedestrians, cyclists and disabled people, who do not have the sheer physical power that us arrogant vehicle users do, but have as much – or even more – a right of way as we do. It does not take money to respect the sanctity of a pedestrian crossing signal – something which has become a mockery in our cities. It does not take money, atleast too much of it, to make our buildings accessible by ramps.It does not take a non-negligible sum to make our sidewalks rise and fall with a wee bit more grace and behave with a bit more consistency. All it takes is an attitude, an approach, a sensitivity to the plight of fellow human beings who have just been very, very unfortunate.
The pedestrian signals in my town in Germany made a funny ticking noise, which always made me wonder about its purpose. On the last day of my stay there, I saw a blind man step onto the road the moment the pedestrian signal turned green, and cross it with confidence. I marveled at the simplicity and yet depth of the thinking process which had gone into the design of the system when I realized that the ticking noise had stopped. Is this the western culture and way of thinking that we so passionately love to dismiss, hate and vilify?
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