TWENTY-YEAR-OLD Fateh Whig is preoccupied these days with a letter he has to draft. He says after failing to get any response for his letters to Punjab Governor, UT Administrator and sending emails to several Chandigarh departments, he will now send a detailed letter to the Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana Court. Born with Spina bifida or defect in the spinal cord because of which Whig has been confined to a wheelchair from birth, through his letters he is now highlighting a significant drawback in City Beautiful, which is now spending a lot of money to become a smart city. He wants it to be known that Chandigarh lacks facilities for people like himself, for differently abled persons.
“When I think of going out to the market or anywhere, I have to first see which of my family members are free to accompany me. I cannot think of going alone, because from the moment I step out, for a person like me there is one roadblock after another,” says Whig who studies law at Panjab University.
He explains the difficulties for a man in wheelchair in Chandigarh. “Go to market and there are no ramps. If ramps exist anywhere, they are broken. I even have limited choices of restaurants because they are not accessible. This is the reason why I have been writing to different people, but no one wants to hear,” he says, adding that a month ago, he visited the Municipal Corporation office in Chandigarh and found the ramp in shabby condition.
Whig is among 14,796 people with different disabilities (census 2011) in Chandigarh — the country’s first planned city post-Independence — but clearly not at all planned for this section of the population. Most government buildings and public spaces lack facilities for the disabled. Government buildings are yet to comply with the rules laid down under the Persons with Disability Act.
Twenty-five-year-old Malak Singh has the same story to tell. A resident of Sector 38 who met with an accident a few years ago, Malak is now in a wheelchair. He says the city is not friendly to disabled people. “If there are no proper facilities for me in a city like Chandigarh, imagine the condition in other states,” says Singh. “In several countries in the West, I have heard that a disabled person feels like a normal human being because he can lead his life almost like everyone else. And see the situation here in city! We cannot go out alone.”
Singh says buildings are formidable challenges given his condition, but cannot understand why it should be the same with parks. “They have entrances, which are guarded by revolving gates or iron gates. Wheelchairs can’t enter through them,” he says. It’s not only wheelchair-bound people who are suffering. People with other kinds of disabilities echo the same sufferings.
“My 31-year-old son is mentally challenged. Due to his behavioural problem, in the last 30 years I have changed my house 20 times, because in most of the cases house owner doesn’t want us to continue. I requested administration to give us a house somewhere, but no one listens to us,” says Pooja Ghai, president of Parents Association at Government Rehabilitation Institute for Intellectual Disabilities (GRIID). She says that the administration has failed to give the due rights to differently abled people in the city. “Recently, our students with disability brought laurels after they participated in various games. But no one from the administration came to honour them,” she says.
Recently, a survey conducted in Chandigarh under the supervision of Prof B S Chavan, HoD, Department of Psychiatry, GMCH, and Joint Director, Government Rehabilitation Institute for Intellectual Disabilities (GRIID), revealed that a large number of public places including bus stand, railway station, airport, hospitals, post office, community centres, shopping malls, parks, hotels and clubs are still not accessible to those with special needs.
“There is a need of social audit of these places in order to make these differently abled-friendly,” the study noted. It pegged the number of disabled persons in the city at 6,306.
Chavan says that a large number of persons with disability are capable of working but are not getting an opportunity to get a job due to limited qualification and disability. “The products made by persons with disability do not find a suitable buyer and thus remain stocked for visitors. There is a need to improve the quality of these products so that these products can be purchased by government departments,” he adds.
The Chandigarh Administration had earlier ordered a survey in the city to identify whether the buildings are easily accessible to the physically challenged. Subsequently, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment released funds to the UT Social Welfare Department to make the required changes in its 44 buildings that were identified as not being “disabled-friendly”.
“The government should come up with a proper plan for the rehabilitation of the disabled people. At present, government is doing nothing for the physically handicapped people, be it in Punjab or in Chandigarh,” says Sarbjit Singh, vice-president of Physically Handicapped Association Punjab.