Disabled people push for need of accessible & disabled-friendly Indian Railways
People with disabilities from across India demand for the need of accessible and disabled friendly railways stations and coaches. Though the Accessible India campaign was launched in 2015, nothing substantial has been done till date owing to which travel becomes a nightmare for disabled people.
Sunitha Thripanikkara, a nationally acclaimed artist, has to travel extensively often on work. Flying so often is beyond her means and she depends on trains. Being a wheelchair user, she dreads the thought. She needs two people to accompany her as she is unable to move but the disabled coaches allow only one person as companion.
Sunitha says such provisions make it hard for disabled people to use train services on an equal footing, a view shared by many people who say that official apathy makes things even tougher.
Over the past few months, many disability rights activist and NGO's have been working towards making railway stations and coaches accessible. Wheelchair user Virali Modi's efforts to install ramps at many railway stations has been rightly implemented, thanks to her constant efforts. Bengaluru-based NGO Anuprayaas has also been working towards introducing Braille facilities inside railway stations.
However, there is a long way to go. Last year, the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) started a campaign demanding installation of ramps and elevators across all railway stations in India, tactile markings on platforms and Braille-embossed signage on coaches. This has not yet been fully implemented. Owing to this, disabled people are unable to travel independently. "If I have to go to a toilet, I need two healthy people to carry me and accompany me to the toilet", says Sunitha. "Since I can't take two people, I avoid drinking water on long journeys".
Rafiq Ahmed, a wheelchair user from Chennai, regularly travels by train to work. In spite of the many challenges that he faces inside trains, Rafiq is unable to change his mode of travel.
I travel from Egmore station where they have a battery car facility inside the station. But they refuse to drop a disabled person citing many reasons. At parking lots for disabled people, others would have already parked their bikes and cars. Our challenges do not end there. When we enter coaches, a person without disability would have already occupied our seats. When we ask them to move, they tell us that the TTE asked them to be seated there. Recently, I even heard that Indian railways is going to remove the disabled coach-Rafiq Ahmed, Wheelchair User.
Like how Rafiq points out, the attitude of people towards a disabled person is the biggest challenge due to which even police refuses to file cases. "When we go to the cops, they tell us that they will take action. But they don't do anything in favour of us. The toilets are also inaccessible", says Rafiq.
Apart from some token facilities, no serious effort has been made to address such issues. Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced Accessible India campaign in the year 2015, disabled people point out that there is a long way to go when it comes to fully implementing it. From getting concessions in ticket fares or being able to choose berths while booking tickets, the struggle faced by a disabled person who travels in trains are many. Inefficiency and apathy of government officials only makes things worse.
TMN Deepak, Founder, 3 December movement, says its shocking for the Railways to be so indifferent. "I see audacity on the part of Indian Railways to choose to ignore accessibility features when they are part of the social justice discourse. We also see the lack of governance framework to coordinate with other ministries in handling disability issues. If Indian railways is reluctant to address the basic first generation disability rights, will it ever graduate itself to the next stage. The answer is definitely no", says Deepak.
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