Recently I attended training for the creation of access auditors at New Delhi. It was organized by CBM and Samarthyam, the National Centre for Accessible Environments.
It was during the break, I happened to talk to Anjlee Agarwal, the Executive Director & Access Consultant, Smarthyam. My intention was to know more about the possibilities of making public transport system including the trains universally accessible. Gradually the conversation led to her experience and finally to an awful story of a child with disability from one of the villages of Jharkhand.
I would like to share the incident that Anjlee narrated to me. It was during the workshop for Persons with Disabilities from the remote village of Jharkahnd. During the lunch break all the participants were moving to the dining hall and Anjlee found Shalu (name changed) sitting idle in the training hall. When she approached to know why Shalu did not join, she tried to escape from being asked about. Finally Shalu told, she did not want to have lunch, the further enquiry led to the revelation that she did not eat always. The conversation led to the fact that she ate rarely at home. Anjlee thought she did not get food due to poverty. But the further conversation led to the shocking reality.
Shalu told her that she ate food once in a week and the reason was she could go to toilet once in week. Shalu, suffering from loco motor disability was bedridden and her mother too was suffering from several ailments. Her mother could not lift her or do anything for supporting her to clear her stomach. There was neither an accessible toilet nor someone to support her to access toilet (there was no such thing at her home). The only option was not to go toilet, and for that she should not eat. Once in a week, her mother helped her to release the human waste keeping some newspaper under her body. Thus she had to undergo the dreadful experience and she controlled it herself by abstaining from eating.
Being a committed person working for the basic rights of every person, Anjlee made some arrangements for Shalu to access toilet with the available materials in the village. When she narrated the experience, her eyes were brimming with tears and I listened to her words with a heavy heart.
I had heard, read, and seen malnutrition, poverty and hunger for various reasons. But it was shocking to hear the story of a girl starving for days as toilet was inaccessible to her which is a basic need of every human being. This led me to think about millions of aged, Persons with Disabilities, pregnant women (especially in the rural areas where there is no toilet) who might be controlling themselves, experiencing harsh realities as accessing toilet is a distant reality. I have seen women, children and now the Persons with Disability, while travelling by train controlling themselves during the journey without drinking water even if they are thirsty and limiting food even if they are hungry to avoid going to unhygienic toilet in the trains (which is inaccessible for Persons with Disabilities, children, pregnant women and people with reduced mobility).
The next day there was a demonstration to show how Persons with Disability find it difficult to access toilet, transfer from wheel chair to the water closet and the struggle to sit back on the wheel chair during the workshop. It was an eye opening session for me to see what I had not been sensitive about till then.
Finally my thoughts went on…I am growing old……or who knows one day my mobility would not be obstructed? Just a fall is enough to happen so.