Mumbai is the city with an unbreakable spirit. But are Mumbaikars insensitive towards people with disabilities? We try to find out.
After around a decade of being a wheelchair user, insensitivity doesn’t bother travel writer Virali Modi anymore. When she is going to a new place or beginning a new chapter in life, she is completely indifferent about the people around her. “I don’t expect or even hope for the people around me to be welcoming. The world has always been insensitive towards people with disabilities and it will be so,” she says. This doesn’t seem like something that can be denied.
It was only a few days ago that a police constable at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station beat up a disabled person. The individual was then wrongly charged with drunken disorder. As a result of this, he took to Twitter to voice the issue. It isn’t brand new information that people with disabilities often face discrimination owing to their condition.
Sunita Sancheti, who is part of her family business, points to the same. She finds it amusing how people can’t tell a sick person from someone with disability. “It is a common myth. Most people think that a disabled person is always sick. What they fail to understand is that disability is a condition, not an illness. I’m using a wheelchair because I have a medical condition not because I have fever,” she flatly states, adding that it is similar to the way an amputee uses a prosthetic limb.
Pawan Bundela, who was born blind, holds a bachelor degree in arts and is a teacher with a school for blind persons. He points out that the source of this discrimination is often at home beginning with the disabled person being compared with siblings. “It is not just strangers that are insensitive towards our condition. You are wrong to assume that our families, who are closest to us, aren’t insensitive or discriminatory. It begins with comparing us with siblings, telling us we are worthless and good for nothing,” he recalls. The teacher sheds light on some of the issues faced by his students in the school. “Parents who have children with disabilities do not educate them. In my class, I have students who are 19 and 20 years old but they are studying the course material of first standard. It is a sad state of affairs,” he laments.
The insensitivity is almost contagious. Virali recalls an incident from just a week ago when someone in the mall asked her to be proud of her disability. “I was waiting for the elevator for over fifteen minutes because people wouldn’t let me get in. Finally when I did get in, I obviously started complaining loudly to my mum, who was accompanying me. And this man had the gall to tell me to not play the disability card — can you imagine this?”
Sunita has more stories to tell. But, even so, she thinks insensitivity doesn’t rightly describe the phenomenon. “When people come across someone with a disability, they go blank — they are clueless on how to react, what to say, what to do. They just aren’t aware,” she shrugs.
On the awareness front, there are a lot of factors to blame, says Pawan. “The film industry is responsible for wrongly depicting the disabled community. We are just shown as begging for alms or playing music on trains. We have other prospects too, you know?”
Virali thinks that how the outside world treats people with disabilities is often an endless circle. “The disabled community soon grows cynical. After years of being subjected to insensitivity, we rarely see the good in people. We see every one the same way — insensitive people. It unfortunately is an endless circle,” she rues.
But if you are genuinely curious, go ahead and ask, says Pawan, adding that they will be more than happy to answer. “We don’t feel bad when you ask us how we go about our day, how we manage ourselves. When you ask questions, we will be happy to share, your knowledge about our condition will improve, and you’ll know how to treat us better,” he signs off hopeful.