By Aadya Sinha:
“After a long time, I heard his hurt voice, when he rang me up last night to explain the situation”, said Nipun Malhotra’s mother, Priyanka Malhotra.
On 6th March, Nipun Malhotra was denied entry to Keya, an upscale bar and restaurant in South Delhi, on grounds of being differently abled. On that day, our society’s commitment to discrimination showed its ugly face yet again. It was Holi, and Malhotra, who is also the co-founder of Nipman Foundation and a known speaker on rights for people living with disabilities, was planning to meet some friends at Keya. On reaching, one of his friends informed the manager there that they were expecting a friend on a wheelchair and necessary arrangements should be made. The manager, on confirming Malhotra’s disability, informed his friend that as a policy, they didn’t allow disabled people inside. When Malhotra reached there, he was allegedly told by the security personnel that he would not be allowed inside because of his disability. He was also reportedly “dragged away by his wheelchair”.
Malhotra suffers from arthrogryposis – a rare medical condition characterized by severe joint contractures and muscle weakness – and he is wheelchair bound. The restaurant, however, attributed this to a misunderstanding and said that they were denying stag entries because of security reasons. In fact, they call themselves a ‘disabled friendly establishment’.
Even as the restaurant attempted to brush away the controversy, it is unlikely to be over anytime soon. Delhi’s deputy chief minister, Manish Sisodia, has ordered an inquiry into the incident. He has directed the sub-divisional magistrate, Vasant Vihar, to conduct the inquiry and submit a report by Tuesday. The restaurant denied entry not only to Nipun Malhotra, but also to two senior citizens on the same day.
Javed Abidi, Director of National Center for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People in India, is not buying the restaurant’s version. “It is a clear and blatant case of discrimination. I want the government to take stringent action,” he said. He has also taken personal interest in the issue.
Apart from taking a good look at the ‘rules’ that govern such establishments, it is obvious that the staff lacked sensitivity towards the differently abled. Even If Keya meets Malhotra’s demand for an unconditional apology, the incident has thrown light on a larger issue. Is it our mindsets and our opinions that are being reflected in such discriminatory incidences? If not, it is our duty to side with the wronged parties and ensure that such flagrant violation of rights does not take place. When such a scene was created, it begs the question, did a third party come to Malhotra’s aid?
Harkishan Singh, whose parents had been turned away earlier, on grounds that their presence would make the patrons “uncomfortable”, leaves us with a very pertinent question on the double standards of such rules. “The place was teeming with youngsters, many of whom looked way below 25 and were being served alcoholic drinks. If the pub didn’t have a problem relaxing their ‘rules’, when it came to the legal age limit for serving alcoholic drinks, how is it that my parents were not allowed inside?”
And why not? In a country that claims to be committed to equality of opportunity and treatment, such rules prove to be a gross violation of the larger ideal of equality.