Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together – Vincent Van Gogh

Posts tagged ‘Disability’

Breaking a Leg in 2011

Mom, myself & Nagaraj with our Christmas tree

End of year are exciting times. I was to be heading home after a strenuous eight months in Bangalore. Having changed my job but a few months earlier, adjusting to my new job and workplace had been hectic. Nothing like an holiday in home sweet home Goa, take in all the awesome food and attention before heading back to work for another round on the grind.

Goa has a lot of hoopla and hype around it, especially during Christmas and New Year, especially for all its beaches, drugs, alcohol, nightlife and women. To us Goans, Goa is just home. It’s the cool breeze one can enjoy sitting on ones veranda, greeting familiar faces as they pass by, eating loads of fresh fish, sharing meals with family, catching up with friends, all in a very relaxed and congenial environment.

The excitement of heading home had led me to shop extensively and I could not wait to pack my bags, until a week before I missed a step and what I fervently prayed was a sprain turned out to be a fracture. A Jones fracture to be precise.

A cast, and five weeks of rest is what the orthopedic doled out nonchalantly. “W-H-A-T”, I shouted, “five weeks, you must be joking”. I live a rather hectic life, waking up at 6.00 a.m. cooking my meals, travelling to office, beginning work ahead of time,  travelling back, cleaning, washing… I hate sitting around in one place unless I’m working on my computer. My mind is always abuzz and I’m doing stuff, now I have to sit in one place with my right leg alleviated, oh man that is simply going to kill me, I thought. The first week I went about like a wounded animal. Frustrated, aggressive, irritable, snapping at those around when I wasn’t engaging in self pity…. It was terrible.

Finally, I decided I needed a perspective change and convinced myself to look at the brighter side of things. This was an opportunity to slow down, sit and smell the coffee. I could now jam on the brakes and experience what it means to be dependent on others, how to seek assistance, how to appreciate assistance, relearn the importance of interdependence. I re-acknowledged the tons of love, concern and caring that makes the world go round, from my dear neighbor who brought over steaming bowls of sumptuous food, to another neighbor who accompanied me to the hospital, the auto and cab drivers, my concerned colleagues who kept calling and messaging to ensure I was comfortable, my family who kept my spirits up and positive and then catering to my every request when I reached Goa. Lowering myself a few notches, life came back from fast-forward to its normal pace, a bit leisurely … on the whole, it was nice.

For five weeks I could not travel and thus needed to work from home. For the last six years I had not spent more than a week at a time in Goa, the slow pace of life bored me. Now I spent a month there, and it seems like fun, work from a comfortable, caring home, enviable isn’t it. I had to thank my luck I had the most cooperative office and a family that felt it could be with me every step of my temporary disability.

My restricted movement actually came as a blessing in disguise, I was back to reading, something I love to do, write for my blog, something I had not done in a while. I got to spend loads of time with my nephew and nieces who were springing up but I didn’t have the time to watch them grow. I got time with my mom and sister; my friends and relatives who visited me. I got loads of time by the window, take in sights and sounds I previously had no time for.

My mom Virginia with her grand kids
My nephew David and niece Jamima at the BBQ

For a while now, I have been associated with the disability movement, now I know just a little bit, what it means to have a disability. The hardships that are bestowed upon the person without their asking.  The limitations a person with a disability experiences because their surroundings have been insensitively designed for able bodied people.

I nearly through my five weeks of hindered movement, wont kid you that I can’t wait to get my cast of, but the learning’s have been tremendous, almost worth the initial suffering that has since evaporated into lessons I could not have paid for even if I tried.

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People with Disabilities and the Recession


With the recession, tough economic times are upon most of us. Companies continue to maintain their freeze on recruitment, salary cuts are common, and layoffs informed to employees an hour before the end of the week. Non written communication to work longer hours is common place. Most people are glad they can retain their job, but the axe is not, say most companies, a matter of choice, some people must go so that the majority can stay, and during this time of deep economic uncertainty one wonders about  the situation of People with disabilities (PwDs).

India has nearly 70 million PwDs in the country. Those lucky to be employed predominantly find themselves in IT companies, telemarketing and BPOs.  A survey of the top 100 corporate houses in India, in 1999, show a mere 0.4% of their workforce was PwDs. Nothing has dramatically changed in the last ten years, PwDs continue to struggle to get employment in the best of times and with the current freeze on recruitment, their chances are as good as zero. Additionally is the bias that PwDs are ‘incapable’, most companies also unwilling or unable to make their premises ‘accessible’, which also acts as a hurdle, and so one can conclude with worrying certainty that PwDs are twice as badly hit by the recession as non disabled people.

If disability groups were demanding tax rebates as incentives for companies hiring PwDs before, now the situation is far more urgent. More so as most PwDs require to earn approximately twice as much as their non disabled counterparts to enjoy the same standard of living.

Few know with any certainty when the recession is going to end or how long it will take the economy to recover, would the Government then undertake a study to find out the effects of the recession on PwDs, would it then take measures to change the situation. Most disability groups believe, that with more pressing needs, they have little chance of getting Government attention. They have fewer expectations as none of the political parties even made a mention of these 70 million PwDs in their election manifesto. All PwDs can expect are a few more social welfare schemes, but with a limited budget and a large number of PwDs clamoring for them, chances are slim that there will be a diametric change.

Whether we like it or not, the 70 million PwDs are too big a population to ignore and brush aside, whether the new Government at the centre likes it or not, it will have to do something that will improve the economic lives of PwDs and pull them back from the ‘vulnerable’ list.

As I look around, I see the recession has turned into a god sent opportunity for young enterprising Indians. I am seeing more people in their 30s set up businesses of their own than ever before and perhaps PwDs need to be heading in the same direction.

With a little bit financial assistance from the Government and some training on business they are just as capable of success as any other businessman and we hope that’s what they will get by way of Government assistance.

Bullying the big ‘B’ in schools

Bullying the big ‘B’ in schools

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I couple of days back, at a little past 6.p.m, I was rushing through the last few things for the day, getting ready to dash for the bus, and psychologically preparing for the tiring task of standing the 45 minutes home, when I was a distracted by the incoming mail as it popped up in Gmail window. It said an old school friend had tagged me on Facebook.

It has been nearly 4 years that I have left Goa, a lot more since I lost contact with people and events in my village and so it has been years. But my school stands large and looming, not just physically but also in my minds eye. My twelve years of school were right there. Twelve years of memory, imprinted on a developing mind can fill up a rather large space, even now when tons of experiences and day to day life clutters on. My school, the village can still be recalled, a large bulky volume? and so that mail from this old school mate instantly filled me with a warm glow. The same kind as soft golden wine would bring, on a tiring day.

I accepted the invitation to add him to my Facebook instantly, saved his mail id and sent him a brief mail in minutes. He was excited that I was online and had written back to him so fast. Our words instantaneous, warm. In my minds eye I could see him, sitting somewhere at a desk with that huge ear to ear smile that always filled his face, that unforgettable sparkle in his jet black eyes. The pictures that filled my mind were old ones, his hair straight and falling over his forehead, and then some other thoughts intruded into the forefront.

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I have worked ‘officially’ on disability issues for a little under a year, but my friends with disability have had a lasting impact on my life. My time with them has since coloured my perception and it popped up here too. My old school friend and fellow villager from Saligao, Goa was also a person with disabilities (PwDs), thought he probably would not fit in with the definition used by the government. But he definitely was my first exposure with a PwDs. Then, I didn’t know about ‘disability’ as an issue and would have described him as someone with a strange gait.

Some more memories, of kids in maroon short pants and pink shirts, running after each other on the playground. Kids have endless and uncontainable energy and in my minds ear I could hear, calling names……, names that weren’t pleasant. They were used to tease. Relentlessly through the day, for years, and the warm glow, wasn’t all that warm anymore.

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I particularly remember this school mate being teased and bullied for having a deformity and can empathize with him because I myself was bullied and teased. Relentlessly, for years. I was tiny, still am, and that became point of ridicule. If somebody told me children as little as five and six years of age can tease, to the point of harass and bully each other, I would never have believed then, definitely not if I had not been a victim myself.

In my minds eye, images are fresh, like they happened yesterday of yet another classmate who was again constantly bullied. His bag hidden in the bin, in the sink, I can still see him frantically searching for his bag even while the other kids ran around teasing and laughing.

Undoubtedly, bulling and teasing that actually amounts to harassment, is an issue in schools. I know it is a big and recognized issue in schools abroad, I don’t believe it is recognized as a serious issue in schools in India or in its numerous States.

Bullying gains an additionally serious dimension when the person being bullied is a person with disabilities. I know I carry the scars of the constant bullying and harassment, I’m sure my old classmate carries them too, since it was a lot harsher for him.

When I look back I’m filled with anger. Couldn’t the teachers see and hear the bullying, I never heard a single teacher voice her disapproval nor did I hear a reprimand. I wonder if teachers have since become aware of the issue of bullying, if they take a stand about it now.

In hind sight I feel shocked, that not a single teacher in my school was sensitive enough to see this boy’s pain, forget about address it.

Children with disabilities have a huge battle when it comes to simply attending schools. Finding an accessible school is a big challenge and additionally is the burden of being bullied.

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If there is something I’d like to advocate from this rambling piece is that bullying in school should be addressed with zero tolerance. Parents, school children and most importantly teachers need to make themselves aware about the lasting effects of bullying.

If you are a parent in India reading this, please raise the issue of bullying in your Parent Teachers Association (PTA), if you’ve a student please take a stand against bullying. School should be fun, I would not wish anyone to experience the pain I or my classmate with disabilities did, simply because other children had not been taught to be sensitive.

If you are a teacher, please sensitize your students to issues related to disability. After all these are the students who will grow to be parents themselves, doctors, lawyers, bus drivers, shopkeepers, bureaucrats etc. Insensitive children make insensitive adults.

How secure are women with disabilities?

How secure are women with

disabilities?

womenrightsRecently I heard of two incidents which made me ask myself this very question, how secure are women with disabilities (WwD)?

In one incident a young mother of 35 hung her two teenage daughters both intellectually challenged, and herself. I guess she got tired of the pressures of life, the social stigma for having intellectually challenged daughters and an alcoholic husband. In the second case, a intellectually challenged girl, in a near by rural district, was taking food for her father in the field. On the way she was accosted, raped and murdered.

rightsThese two incidents bring to the fore one prominent fact, WwD; particularly women with mental illness and those intellectually challenged are not safe, either in their homes or in public.

In the first incident, the girls were obviously a burden to their mother, who was a poor lady, fighting for sustenance. She probably worried about what would happen to her children after she grew too old to provide for them. To her tormented mind, suicide was the only option.

Yet, she needed to be told that there was help. She needed to be given help. We have the Mental Health Act 1987, The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities and Full Participation) Act 1995, The Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act 1995, the Indian Penal Code and probably more legislations than you and I can recall. Yet how many of these legislations are preventive, how many call for policy changes, how many policies that have been drafted and passed are being implemented? So many questions and the death of these girls is answer enough, about the situation of despair.

In the second incident, the girl was probably mildly intellectually challenged, so she was able to follow simple instructions and was taking lunch to her father. Obviously some lecherous man found in this simply girl a soft target. He also found in her a dispensable target. Undoubtedly this incident reveals a debased mind, but what about the girl, what does her family learn from this incident. What do other families with intellectually challenged girls learn from this incident? Do any of us expect that the girl and her family will get justice? Should we write this off as yet another death that will go by with no lessons learnt?

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All those who are intellectually challenged are not ‘useless’. There are different degrees of disability. Depending upon the degree, they can be trained, to take care of themselves, to take simple decisions and even do simple tasks that can allow them to earn a small living. Yet families are made to believe they have people who are vegetables.

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This article is full of questions. I don’t have answers to all of them, but I am searching, and perhaps you would like to join in too.

If you are an NGO or an association for people with disabilities (PwD), please put the security of WwD prominent on your agenda. If you are a parent with an intellectually challenged child please join parents associations, experience the strength of a collective and begin lobbing the government for welfare facilities. If you are a sensitive citizen and are concerned about PwD and WwD, please volunteer time. If you are a bureaucrat or are in a position of power please leverage it so that the lives of a few PwD are made better or even saved.

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire

slumdog_millionaireRecently, Slumdog Millionaire has created a huge buzz, first in the US and now in India. The hype has reached a feverish pitch as it swept the Golden Globe Awards and is now slated to carry away an Oscar or two as well.

With everybody watching, talking and wanting to watch Slumdog Millionaire I finally got myself a DVD and sat down to it, full of expectations.

I watched and waited, waited and watched, laughed once at the guy begging little Jamal to come out of the toilet, drew back in revulsion as little Jamal dived into a load of shit, laughed again as he pushed his way through the crowd covered in crap to get an autograph from Amithab Bachan and ………hummmmmmmmmmm, that’s it. In hind sight, the movie was a rather let down.

I’m not much of a movie buff, but I did watch a few like Range De Basanti and Taare Zameen par, and in my humble opinion, they were extremely good quality films on India. Both are poignant stories, very nuanced and displaced a deep amount of thought in writing the script and skill in direction.

rang-de-basantiThey virtually are social commentaries, Range De Basanti talks about State Power and the aspirations of young people in India and Taare Zameen Par is a fantastic film about little known and highly stigmatized Learning Disabilities. The common factor of course is Amir Khan, who is an exception film personality. Now compare Slumdog Millionaire to any of these super hit, intellectually stimulating films and it is no where in the reckoning.

Taare Zameen Par

I am not critical of Slumdog Millionaire for reasons like that it exposes India’s underbelly and poverty, for that is the truth. With nearly 450 million people living below the poverty line, there is no way I’m burying my head in the sand. Of course, India is moving and things are changing, but it needs to change fast enough so that a sizable proportion of this 450 million people see positive change within their life time.

I think Slumdog Millionaire is a waste, for its terribly loose story and pathetic dialogues. When the slum kids suddenly branch off from Hindi to English I was wondering who taught that slum kid such good English. Initially I thought the name “Slumdog Millionaire” was about creative license, (and I would have given it a miss had the film being a real solid story) but after watching the movie, I think the Director Danny Boyle or who ever decides of the name of a film could have done better. The name clearly crosses the line of polite sensibility. Nobody came across there as a dog, at the most it was about a few street smart kids, and millions of Indian children live by their wits, just like the actors in the film.

Irfan Khan in the Mighty Heart is an excellent actor; Slumdog Millionaire simply did not expose the talent in him. Anil Kapoor is a good actor and probably single handedly carried off the movie. I’m yet to figure out why Jamal had a continuously zonked look and Latika was mediocre at best. Salim was a mere shadow though he had the potential to play of more frontal role.

All in all you got to watch this film just to realize what mediocre cinema passes off as the best in Hollywood. I think those guys have a lot of resources at their disposal, if only they had the brains to use it.

Sankranti in Keeramanda

Sankranti in Keeramanda

ScenerySankranti the harvest festival is celebrated all over India under various names, Lohri in the North, Makaharra Sankranti in the North West, Bihu in Assam, Pongal in Tamil Nadu and so on.

As most of you would know, India is largely agrarian and the heart of this country still beats among the rich and vast variety of grain and cash crops that are grown in the country. Sankranti is celebrated when the first crop is harvested, it is a time of thanks giving to the Gods, to the mother earth and gusto in the celebrations is determined by the plentifulness of the crop.

This year, as part of the Adobe project, five of my colleagues and me found ourselves in Keeramanda. Keeramanda is a tiny clutch of mud huts on the Karnataka-Andhra Pradesh border and actually falls in AP. We were there on a three day film shoot as we planned to make a short film on how Keeramanda celebrates Sankranti, the much awaited harvest festival.

We had heard that on Sankranti this village held a competition, in which hundreds of bulls from the village and neighboring ones would gather and to the sound of much hollering and screaming there would be a race. A small crowded 100 yard stretch where the bulls would have to run, and the one who managed to complete the race fastest, and this year the time set was 8 seconds, would win a fairly large prize. But wait, I’m moving too fast.

reservoir_2We arrived in the village of Keeramanda two days earlier and set up camp in the thatched extension of the house of a distant relative. Spending most of my days in the dirt, dust, noise and hurry of Bangalore, Keeramanda was the ideal get away. A four hour bumpy ride away from forgettable Bangalore and we were in the lap of nature, green verdant hills, the sound of bulbuls and parakeets filling our ears, the little village pond waited invitingly and we needed no invitation. I and the guys plunged in head long, swimming from one end of shallow pond to the other in long languid strides. The air much much cleaner, cooler. The pace of life so much slower, time to smell the flower and watch the birds fly by, we pulled out our camera and shot away, footage and stills, we just couldn’t get enough.

sun-riseOn the day of Sankranti the village wakes up at 3 in the morning to make large fires, where they sit around and warm themselves and at the first cock crow which signals eminent dawn the women of the house get bustling, making pots of hot water for all to bath in. They then head into the courtyard to do the traditional Rangoli.

rangoliThe Rangoli is a decoration on the floor, done in various coloured powered; The Rangoli is usually done everyday in the courtyard, but for Sankranti and such other festivals it’s done in an elaborate manner. Besides numerous other things the Rangoli for Sankranti must include the relief of two large sugarcane stocks made in brown powder, with green foliage on top, and a pot in the centre.

Sugarcane is another central part of Sankranti and since in Keeramanda they grew it, people just went to their fields and lopped off a few cane. With so much of cane, my colleagues spend hours exercising their jaws and stocking up on as much sugar as they could get out of the cane.

animal_flowers1Later in the morning, the family goes on to bedeck their cows and goats with flowers and a small puja is performed. Sankranti is when the domestic animals who worked just as hard as their masters to realize the crop are honoured. In preparation for the puja the animals have their horns sharpened and oil painted! sometimes they are also bathed, lovingly groomed and fed with specially made sweets.

cock-fightA central part of Sankranti is the entertainment, more for men then women. Cock fights are a great source of entertainment, thought they are banned and so….., no the cock fights have not stopped, camera persons like us are strictly supervised and prohibited from taking any pictures for publication. Grooming, feeding and watching the cocks grow into sturdy birds just for a day like this is what a lot of men in the village live for, and our host was kind enough to let two of his home grown favourites launch at each with all their flaming red plumage on display. But I can’t go into the fine art of cock fighting or cock rearing here, however I did smuggle out a few pictures of some of those brave busters going for each other. Thankfully they didn’t have their killer spurs on J

cock-fight_actionBesides the cock fights organized on the sly, is the bull racing. The bull racing attracts much crowds and frenzy in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and it too raised the courts ire and was banned for a short while, of course without success. Recently they have been allowed again and can be held under a strict set of rules framed by the Chief Justice himself.

One of the main reasons for banning these bull racing events was not just because of the way the animals were handled but because of the way in which a large number of people seriously endangered their lives. I think some of those seriously injured also succumbed to them later on and therefore the ban.

bull-race_crowdTo the small village of Keeramanda this Sankranti came over 260 bulls, of all shades and colour, sizes and age. With all kinds of temperaments, some kicking the dirt and all riled up, other timid, having to be dragged through the venue even while the large crowds smacked their flanks and screamed.

The little lane in which the race was to be held was packed, narrowing the race track to a sliver. The roofs, terraces, walls and mud path had all the assembly it could carry, the air thick with dust and full of excited hollering. It’s an all men’s show. It’s just not safe for a woman to be in the path of a raging bull, who often is so confused and terrified, and so simply ploughs through the crowd, thereby injuring many in the crowd.

bull_chargeIf I somehow gave you the idea that bull racing is a huge fun sport, I’m sorry; this sport is more than fun. The winner of that race can walk away with a hefty cash prize and also a few grams of gold and so it’s a hotly contested race. Thanks to some of those very skittish bulls Keeramanda saw four injuries this year; thankfully none of them were serious. All in all, we came away exhausted but with some warm memories not forgetting some excellent footage of a very heady sport indeed.

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Meeting a Deafblind lawyer

Meeting a deaf-blind lawyer,

Mr. Riku Virtanen

Riku VirtanenRecently, thanks to a programme organized by the Bangalore Unit of Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) and the Society for Human Rights, Bangalore, I was able to have my first ever meeting with a deaf-blind person. Mr. Riku Virtanen is a lawyer who specializes in human rights and hails from Finland.

Interestingly, even thought Mr. Virtanen is young, he is already rather accomplished. A Board member on the Threshold Association (a human rights organization which promotes the rights of persons with disabilities in Finland), he is also a Consultant Member on the Board of the Finnish Deafblind Association and has worked on several reports and surveys in Finnish.

Mr Virtanen has also published a survey in English related to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in May 2008 and in addition was at two Ad Hoc meetings when the United Nations was preparing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

braille-bookMy first thought, which was a strong motivator for attending this meeting, was how does a person who is both deaf and blind communicate? I had heard about deaf-blindness thanks to Helen Keller, but reading about Helen Keller was theory, meeting someone who was like her was intriguing. And there was Mr Virtanen, sitting at his Braille display board with his two interpreters by his side; incidentally both of them are named Jenni (pronounced Yenni in Finish).

deafblindcoataspenMr Virtanen uses a combination of Jaws and the Braille display board when he is working on the computer. His Braille display board acts as both a keyboard and a monitor. Text on the screen uses Jaws and converts itself into Braille, it then displays itself on his Braille display board. The Braille display board can also be typed on and the content will get converted into text on the computer. This is how Mr Virtanen surfs the net, replies to his mail and types into his computer.

Signing HandsAdditionally, Mr Virtanen also uses sign language to communicate with those around him, and by placing his hand on the hand of the interpreter who is also signing, can read what is being said to him!. Thanks to his supporting country Mr Virtanen is also lucky to have a cochlear implant which along with a hearing aid allows him to hear albeit only slightly.

Just sitting at the discussion with Mr Virtanen was an interesting process in participating in an ‘Inclusive Discussion’. The participants had to speak slowly to allow the first interpreter to type on what those around were saying into the computer, even while Mr Virtanen kept feeling and thus reading his way on the Braille display board.

When Mr Virtanen wanted to intervene he would sign and vocalize to his interpreter in Finnish, who would then translate it into English for the audience. A seemingly slow process, but an interesting lesson in inclusion, participation and democracy at a discussion. Amazingly, Mr Virtanen reads and writes English, but speaks Finish! Don’t ask me to explain this one J

Undoubtedly, Finland is a better place to be in for a deaf-blind person, than India. This country allowed, Mr. Riku Virtanen to go to school, college and then law school. However Mr. Virtanen assures us it wasn’t easy, having a disability is an expensive affaire, as the person requires assistive devices, assistive technologies and a personal assistant as in the case of Mr. Virtanen. His parents had to fight with the government to have them fund these facilities and that’s how Mr. Virtanen got introduced to the ‘Rights’ issue of disability, it also guided him to law.

Interestingly, Mr. Virtanen lives independently in Finland, though he requires assistance when he goes out. He currently uses the white cane to move around but is also accompanied by a personal assistant. Mr. Virtanen hopes to get himself a guiding dog sometime soon.

Mr. Virtanen also has hobbies just like all other people, and they include chess, fishing and collecting ancient books, which he clarified, he does not read J.

What came across from the discussion was that a country like Finland, allows a person with disability to live as independent and fulfilled a life as a non-disabled person and that’s what Mr. Virtanen said as much.

But all is not rosy; Finland has much scope to improve, especially in terms of accessibility. It is also yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities but that is because it is currently trying to harmonize its internal legislation with the international one.

India on the other hand is quiet the reverse. It is quick to ratify any international convention and laws, but is extremely slow to implement these changes national, and it is needless to say that this is the case with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities too.

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