Never in my life did I feel so awkward and…dumbstruck.
If you haven’t met me before, then probably I’ll have to tell you that it takes a bit of a doing for someone to make me dumb.
The guy in the front seat wasn’t an academic. He didn’t pose a puzzle or logic that would usually make me pause for a while and think.
Why should he do that; he was doing what he does best –driving auto, the three-wheeled motor vehicle that threads through the worst of traffic jams in Bangalore.
The question was ironical, simple and thought provoking: “You’re blind. How can you write?”
Well…When he asked me what I was doing for a living, I should’ve said I’m singing in a music band, selling lottery tickets or ration card covers in the moving train, which, come to think of it, isn’t unexciting considering some of us make a career out of giving grand speeches about inclusive society trying to make the whole thing sound bookish and dreadful.
It took a full auto ride across the narrow, traffic-choked roads of my city to explain how technology has enabled people like me to use computers and put down our thoughts and ideas.
There was no sound from the driver’s seat, which made me think either he fell asleep on the wheel or dumbstruck as how I was a few minutes ago by the suspicion that I was taking him for a ride.
Technology may have made many things possible today, but the idea that persons with disability are as productive as anyone else somehow didn’t seem conceivable to many people.
Many times in the past, I’ve asked the question why? What was so illogical and improbable about a disabled person using technology and doing what he likes the best?
Then it hit me one day. As I perused some of the available statistics on disability, I realised our population is not only proportionately less compared to other distinguishable marginalized groups, but has been left to thrive on the fringes of the society struggling to shed the negative identity forced on us.
Census 2011 figures available in popular media reveal that India currently is home to 2.68 crore persons with disability, which is a little over 26 million, constituting from anywhere between 1.75 per cent and 2.45 per cent of the total population in different states.
Though I know that the visually challenged population is higher than in any other country, I’m unable to quote a credible figure. I think 10 million should be a good guess.
So you might find roughly one disabled person per thousand individuals. Given the apathy towards the population, we’re effectively invisible in the society.
Of course, some of you may scream in protest that it’s not entirely true. I don’t have to remind you that the picture of disability you see in our urban sprawl doesn’t reflect an economically forward marching constituency of the population.
If popular media, films and other visual representations are anything to go by, people relate disability largely with begging, hawking, singing etc, all for a few coins and plenty of pity.
If you have a majority in a country that doesn’t get to see people with disability often or see them as downtrodden or economically weak, how are we to create an inclusive society, or, to use one of the popular euphemisms, a “friendly” society?
Studying the issue academically makes sense up to a certain point, but it takes bold social engineering to change perceptions.
Project Vision, under the able leadership of Fr. George Kannanthanam, is conducting “blind walk” in Bangalore and four other cities to give an idea of how challenging it is to lead a life without eyes. The idea is to make people donate eyes and let their departed ones see the world after they are gone.
Creating a platform for specific disability groups or a cross-disability group to mingle with the mainstream of society would spread awareness much better than any other mode. To experience and to feel disability would make people talk about it and understand it better.
Hopefully, more people and groups follow Project Vision’s example in future.
**The blind walk will be held on September 6 in Bangalore. For further details, please write to Fr. George Kannanthanam at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
**This blog is being brought back to life after months of deep freeze since I have been out working on my next book. That process isn’t over yet, but I would continue to keep things active at this space. Please forward and support the blog so that many could read and have an opportunity to think about disability and related issues.