What else do I think on a day when our country celebrates its independence?
The Americans celebrate their I-Day on July 4, Malaysians on Aug 31, Singaporians on Aug 9, while South Koreans like Indians mark the day on August 15. The days may differ, but the thoughts and sentiments behind the celebrations are much the same.
All human beings living in the country should find freedom in their spirits, in their hearts and in the ecosystem around them. Some experience all those freedoms, most could say that they have at least two of them. But still larger numbers find freedom neither in their spirits nor in the physical environment. Especially persons with disability.
Talking of freedom, I always think about M. G. Road, the arterial road in Bangalore, where you could observe people walking or chatting about with their companions in absolute comfort. Even the potholes on the pavements, the hawlkers occupying much of the walking area and the randomly parked bikes and cars wouldn’t upset the relaxed demeanor of people strutting about.
Of course, almost all of them are persons who could see and swerve away from any impending obstacle at the last minute. Blind persons don’t have that luxury. We’ll have to take heart from whatever freedom we find within the confines of our limitations.
I’ve walk along the pavement which appears straight to a seeing person, but is actually nothing better than a meandering rivulet jumping and swirling around the obstacles that slightly alter its course. One moment, I’ll be walking straight only to hear a streetside vendor shouting me to go left. And the next moment I’ll hear the voice of the vendor who had set up shop on the opposite side.
“The walking area is too narrow for me to walk,” I’ll shout above the din and chaos, but won’t get a response from the vendor-turned-guide. Surely, They won’t make an attempt to understand what I’m saying. The problem is, they think I’m blind, while I’m astounded how come they aren’t seeing what I do.
IT doesn’t matter if they think I’m blind. Of course, I am. But the problem is they also assume that I’m deaf so they shout closer to my ears and also dumb enough to enter a crowded road and don’t know where I’m going. I get worked up and try telling them animatedly that I am headed towards the Reliance Communications on the corner of Brigade Road and I have been the same miserable soul walking on those very pavements for nearly ten years and I know the obstacles almost by heart, all along giving them the impression that I’m rood to those who are essentially kind to me.
Oh dear god, is this freedom? Will there be a day when I would walk as comfortably as my fellow Bangalorians on those same pavements without having to agonise over confronting those vendors?
Will my city be the first in the country that recognizes the freedom of people for whom freedom comes with effort and is more valuable?
Will my city be the first to work towards making the public space inclusive for those with white sticks and on wheelchairs?
That’s something I think of every year on August 15 and hope things would change. I hope because I feel freedom in my heart and in my spirit. I could see people agreeing with me when I share my feelings on what it takes to lead a restricted life in a free space and in a free country.
I hope not just for myself, but for hundreds like me who find no voice to speak out their frustrations (because everybody thinks they are deaf, but don’t hear them out).
I hope because inclusion makes us all human. Inclusion alone would make us people with dignity and not people with disability.
And so I hope and hope on every Independence Day… still speaking out in support of my own abilities and that of hundreds like me.
**Support Association of Persons with Rare Eye Diseases (APRED) in whatever you can. Be the ambassador and tell the world about APRED’s activities and the cause it represents. For details, visit: http://www.apred.ordindia.org.