On Tuesday, 50-year-old Latika Maiti was at Vigyan Bhavan to receive the President’s award for 36 years of teaching service. But the moment of pride wasn’t without some discomfort as Maiti, who uses crutches to walk, was made to climb a staircase to reach the stage at Vigyan Bhavan, which has no ramps for the differently abled.
Maiti, who hails from Purba Midnapore in West Bengal, had to seek support from people to get to the stage, and then climb down.”I did not see ramps anywhere but there was someone who constantly helped me get on and off the stairs,” said Maiti. One of the awardees, who did not wish to be named, said, “When you are taking an award and have to seek help from others, it doesn’t feel nice.”
This is not the first time that the issue of Vigyan Bhavan being inaccessible for the differently abled has been raised. Two years ago, Satendra Singh, a teacher with the University College of Medical Sciences, and Abha Khetrapal, founder of Cross Hurdles and an awardee for her contribution to the field of disability, had complained of it.
“We had complained and a closure report was filed. The report by the Department of Empowerment for People with Disability had said that retrofitting will be done to make the space fully accessible,” said Singh. An official from the HRD Ministry said it is not responsible for looking into the arrangement of ramps at Vigyan Bhavan.
Some awardees also brought up the fact that the awards were given by the Vice-President, and not the President. A total of 319 teachers from across the country received the award. “When we got the invitation, and till the time we came here, we were under the impression that the President will give us the award. But yesterday, we were told it is the Vice-President who would honour us. As we are the guests and the ministry the host, we cannot question them,” said Riyaz Ahmed Wani, a teacher from J&K. The HRD official refused to comment on this.
All awardees were told that in the evening, they will be taken to Rashtrapati Bhavan for a photo opportunity. Vikas Prasad, director of the Accessible India campaign under the Department of Empower-ment of Persons with Disabilities, said, “We are no authority to to punish anyone for non-compliance of rules. We can only inform authorities and ask them to act.”