No Country For The Disabled?
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No Country For The Disabled?

The Ministry of Home Affairs’ guidelines for disabled people in movie theatres seems like a joke in light of the little that has been done to make spaces accessible for them.

By Shakthi Vadakkepat

Published on :

The levels of disappointment and disillusionment that I am feeling are hard to describe. Don’t misunderstand, this does not affect my patriotism, and I take great pride in being Indian — in awe of our rich cultural heritage and history. But the blow to my morale comes from a recent development. The government has given us (read: the disabled) a set of guidelines on what to do when the national anthem is played in movie halls before a movie.

I will not enter the debate of whether the national anthem should or should not be played in theatres. That is not within the scope of our discussion. However, it saddens me to read about people with disabilities roughed up for refusing (being unable to stand up) for the national anthem. I was sure that the government would step in and take steps to rectify this gross violation of personal rights. I was keenly looking forward to see what the government would do to avoid a repetition of such an incident. Needless to say, I am nothing short of appalled at what has been done.

Why am I so upset? Instead of promoting compassion and understanding, the government has actually come up with a set of guidelines for disabled people telling them how to show respect for the national anthem. And the suggestions are disturbing. Let me quote a few points that the Ministry of Home Affairs has come up with.

“The persons with locomotor disabilities and other wheel chair users, shall position themselves to the extent of maximum attentiveness and alertness, with or without the help of appropriate aids and appliances. For example, a wheel chair bound person with disability shall make the wheel chair static, and position themselves maintaining the maximum possible alertness, physically,” the release stated, adding, “if the person with disability is on crutch, he/she shall become stable [non-mobile] to the extent of maximum alertness.”

First of all, this is nothing short of a mockery of disability and the use of mobility aids. Add to that, the general vagueness of the instructions. For example, I am a wheelchair bound person and making the wheelchair static and being in a position of maximum alertness is a tough thing to do, simply because none of these factors are controlled just by me. The slipperiness of the floor, or slope if any, and whether the floor is carpeted or tiled have a major role to play in whether or not the wheelchair is static and I can’t even imagine how much tougher it is for someone on crutches. Remember that movie halls are gently downward sloping in most cases, to provide for optimal seating and viewing.  

And who defines “maximum alertness”? For me it may be one thing and something else for another. What the government does not realise is that there is no uniform “attention” stance for us disabled people. We all have different issues and different problems that come with them. If my way of showing respect is to look down, another person might see it as me feeling drowsy and think that I am disrespecting the anthem. Thereby opening people like me up for more potential physical assault or intimidation. I really do not get the point of these guidelines.

There are other sections like:

“While the persons with mild intellectual disability without associated conditions can be trained to understand and respect National Anthem, the same may not hold good in other cases. Relaxation to such class of persons with disabilities may be considered.”

What is being attempted here is a classification or gradation of the degree of intellectual disability that a person suffers from. We will need certification with percentage and the gradation of severity. That certificate will have to be carried and produced on demand for inspection to anyone who feels that the anthem is being insulted. Is this the society that we are trying to create? Where people with disabilities are graded on the extent and level of their disability and have to prove their patriotism with a certificate? And how do we train people with “mild” intellectual disability to show outwardly signs of respect? They already face a challenge when trying to convey what they feel. What is the meaning of “mild” here even mean? Completely baffling and bordering on mockery!

The main question that begs this whole thing is this: am I going to watch a movie or to prevent getting beaten by carrying a certificate that says I am disabled? What are my chances of proving this to a bunch of able-bodied people who are agitated to a point where they want to hurt me? Even if I figure out a way to show it, are they in a mood to see it? And who will oversee the gradation and classification of disability? Why is the establishment that has not graded and classified us correctly in an effort to making living conditions better for us, trying to do so for watching a movie? Is the movie hall the only place where this graded probability of physical harm exists for now or is society going to take this wider? It is after all a question of life and being able to live it now.

I wish the government had put in 10 per cent of this effort and speed of execution in making the country more handicap-accessible and helping us lead lives just like everyone else. They were really fast in coming up with these “guidelines”. If only they had shown this effort in overall improvement of infrastructure from an accessibility standpoint. As a person with disability, I can’t even go and vote. I can’t use public restrooms. I can’t travel by public transport. And all that the government is worried about is how I will make my wheelchair static and come to “maximum alertness” when the national anthem plays before a film screening?

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