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

Posts tagged ‘discrimination’

Bullying the big ‘B’ in schools

Bullying the big ‘B’ in schools

stop_bullying

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.

pics_2

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.

bystander14

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.

everyonefriend

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.

Advertisements

Disabled excluded from places of worship

Disabled excluded from places of

worship

Inaccessable_temple_steps

I have numerous friends who are affected by polio or have suffered spinal injuries and so, are wheelchair bound. And I was astounded to note that few if any had access to places of worship, be it Temples or Churches.

Religion is undoubtedly a private issue but each of us have always found the need to turn to the house of god, not just during festivals but even for a few moments to commune with he who watches over us. And it is probably the greatest infringement of the Human Rights of People with Disabilities (PwDs) that they cannot visit a Temple or Church when ever they feel like it. I specifically mention Temples and Churches as they are more numerous and observable in a place like Bangalore.

Most of these places of worship either have a steep flight of steps leading up to them or they prevent people entering their premises with foot ware, or both. I have often questioned my friends on wheelchairs about this exclusion, and they seem to take it with the resignation that they are forced to adopt, for so many other places are also denied to them. With his own place of worship out of bounds to him, one of my non Christian friends prefers to accompany me to Church, as it is accessible and offers him a place and opportunity to pray.

This is of course is unfair, Exclusion, in this time and age speaks poorly of our Communities and our religious leaders, who have failed to keep up with the changing needs of their Communities.

Even thought, The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 is now 13 years old, Chapter 8 on Non-Discrimination speaks only about Government buildings and is conspicuously silent on community places like places of worship.

temple_stepsUndoubtedly, this is just one of the inadequacies of the Act which is sorely in need of amendment. But the question is are we, the Community, going to wait for an Amendment to The Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, before we welcome our brethren with disabilities to share in the community and personal experience of worship?

While we accept that traditions run deep, this exclusion and discrimination needs to be addressed. I think what is needed is a proactive approach, from all the stakeholders. PwDs need to approach the places of worship near them and sensitize the community and religious leaders to the needs of PwDs. The Disability Commissioners at the National and State level need to initiate a dialogue, with religious leaders, calling for sensitivity and offering suggestions for modification of temple and Church structures. As a group PwDs need to lobby for an amendment to The Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.

temple_steps_againMost of these changes be it ramps, railings, tactile tiles or prominent signage’s would hardly cost much and would also benefit others like the elderly. So hope 2009 breaks one more barrier for PwDs.

Protest against the discrimination meted out to Rajiv Ranjan by Air Sahara

The treatment meted out to Rajiv Ranjan, the coordinator of the legal aid cell of Vidyasagar a Chennai based NGO working on disability, by Air Sahara on 18th June 2007 is despicable to say the least and yet it is just another grim reminder of the deep rooted bias and ignorance that people with disabilities encounter each day.

Checking the websites of Air Deccan, I learnt that they charge anywhere from Rs. 200 extra if the person is wheelchair bound and that is such a ridiculous if not a blatantly discriminatory thing to do. Bad enough a Person With Disability (PWD), due to his or her disability needs more than the average amount of money to sustain him/ herself and when you and I, able bodied people get discounts for flying why not PWDs who should be getting discounts and more.

When it comes to accessibility, bus stations, public places, railway stations are horribly inaccessible and disabled unfriendly. Rail and bus journeys being long, put undue stress of PWDs. Non disabled people are turning to air travel as a convenient means of transport, for PWDs air travel is a necessity more than convenience.

PWDs have been holed away for too long, they are desperately trying to come out of their homes and fulfill their aspirations like you and me. They have a right to live normal lives and aspire to it and yet all we can offer them is this shoddy treatment.

The problem is not with PWDs it is in our heads, in your head and mine, in the way we see the world and in the way we categorize people, into winners and losers. Rajiv Ranjan would be considered a loser. And in our fast paced world losers are not welcome, we don’t even want to see them. We like smart people, tick tocking around on their heels, their noses powdered, scented, in Van Husen or Koutons, who wants an awkward moving guy on the wheelchair around, or somebody blocking our window seat as he stumbles along. Our minds are so deeply convinced about what is normal and what is ‘abnormal’, where normal people should be and where ‘abnormal’ people should be, what normal people should be doing and what ‘abnormal’ people should be doing that the airline staff did not think twice (probably there was not much of grey matter in there anyway) about being rude and nasty. People like Rajiv Ranjan who with Spastic Cerebral Palsy have little control over their movements or even those who have floppy CP or Spina Bifida which results in a physical deformity, have an especially hard time because of our bias.

I really do not know whether the bias has any malicious intent but that it causes grave amounts of inconvenience, mental agony and frustration to people with disabilities, is definite. I say this because I myself knew close to nothing about disability just a little more than a year ago, however proceeding along this line of discussion brings out the whole aspect of the personal sensitivity one has or does not have on disability and this cannot be the response. There is no uniformity in sensitivity and a lack of it. What needs to be in place is a policy for airline companies on disability.

After India being signatory to every convention on disability including the recent United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability and The Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection Of Rights And Full Participation) Act, 1995 being over a decade old it is a disgrace that blatant discrimination as that meted out to Rajiv Ranjan still persists.

What we need is for the National Disability Commissioner to take strong cognizance of this incident and showcase airline companies about why legal action should not be taken against them for discrimination according to The Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection Of Rights And Full Participation) Act, 1995 and why more than a decade later they still do not have a policy in place for people with disability.

Flying beyond discrimination

IN PERSPECTIVE

Airline companies must evolve an inclusive, disability friendly, non-discriminatory policy.

It is generally accepted that there are about 60-70 million persons with disabilities in the country, 12 million of these are believed to be visually impaired. The general citizenry in their ignorance about people with disabilities often dismiss them as inconsequential members of society. Yet most of us, who either live or work with people with disability, know that they live pretty normal lives even after all the “hurdles” we put up for them. Of special interest are people with visual impairment and the tremendous problems they face from sheer lack of policy and some would argue thoughtlessness.

Recently, a friend with visual impairment was detailing an incident of high handedness and the arbitrary policy of a prominent airline. The airline it seems prevented him from boarding a flight because it was their policy that a person with visual impairment be accompanied by an escort. My friend argued that like most other people with visual impairment, he had a job, he had a family, travelled frequently by trains and other public transport and if he was capable of all this why then did he need an escort when flying.

Excuses

The airlines refuted, saying that in an emergency it would not be possible for the airline staff to give him individual assistance and he would be required to follow instructions for which they assumed he would need help. Anybody acquainted with persons with disabilities would immediately suggest that the way out would be to print instructions in Braille and give the person a few minutes orientation before boarding the flight. In an emergency any greater than that which calls for using basic safety equipment, not just a person with visual impairment but even the rest of the passengers would not be able to do much to save themselves.

But with the deep seated mentality of “exclusion” with which most of our facilities functions, it becomes easier for the airline company to propose a more expensive suggestion and thus prevent thousands of people from travelling. It was later learnt that the airlines had no policy for people with visual impairments and was actually following an International Air Transport Association recommendation!

Today, the cost of air travel is dropping and persons with disabilities not just visual impairments but with locomotor disabilities, speech and hearing impairment, multiple disabilities and cerebral palsy besides others, find it easier to save themselves time and the hardships of long hours of travel, by opting for a flight.

Action taken

The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995, chapter eight is on non-discrimination and specifically mentions transport. People with disabilities are demanding accessibility in buses and trains, and the Government is fortunately investing in infrastructure to make these increasingly disabled friendly. MD of the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Madhu recently explained how the BMRCL planned to make the metro accessible. He promised more meetings with people with disabilities, when the architectural plans were being finalised. Why then are the airline companies lagging behind?

In the case filed by Javed Abidi against the Centre, airports were directed to respect the dignity of wheelchair users and provide them with ambu-lifts to enable them to board the flight, this not withstanding the Governments plea on the lack of funds.

Persons with disability are valuable consumers and should not be discriminated against. Airline companies should evolve a policy that is “inclusive”, “disability friendly” and “non-discriminatory”. Their policy should be in keeping with the spirit of The Persons with Disabilities Act 1995. The Policy should take into consideration the different types of disability and evolve a policy on each of them, rather than plaster a single policy on all disabilities. Today, technology has evolved much and is becoming cheaper to access; it should be used by airline companies to widen their consumer base by including people with disabilities.

The above article was published in the Bangalore edition of the Deccan Herald on 1st September 2006

http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/Sep12006/editpage161072006831.asp

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: