On the last day for exchanging old currency notes i.e December 30, 2016, I went to SBI JNU Branch to withdraw cash. Me, being a differently-abled person, I knew that there are separate queues for persons with disabilities as per the directive of the government. Keeping this in mind, I went straight to the cashier’s counter.
People standing there in general queues started asking me to get in line, to which I replied saying that I was a differently-abled person and hence was not standing in the general queue. I went to the cashier and told the same to him and gave him a cheque to withdraw ₹20,000. To which the cashier replied that the daily limit on that day had been limited to ₹10,000 as there lack of adequate cash. The reply appeared like an eye-opener to me which falsified all tall claims of the government that adequate cash is available in the banks.
The second thing which the cashier said to me was quite intriguing and shocking. He said, “You don’t look like a person with disability to me and hence you should get a token and stand in the general queue.” This was quite an absurd remark and showed the mentality of people in general towards persons with disabilities. I told the cashier that I can show him my disability certificate if he wants to confirm. His reply didn’t change and he said that because I didn’t look disabled enough to him, that’s why even the medical certificate won’t prove my point to him. Here was a bank cashier who was trying to be a competent authority on whom to consider differently-abled and whom not.
I wonder that when government of India released the notification for separate queues for persons with disabilities, did the government leave the matter on the judgement of bank employees to decide who is disabled and who is not? All this was happening in JNU SBI Branch, where one would think that the level of sensitivity towards differently-abled people would be much more than any other place considering that the university campus is relatively a better place to live for a differently-abled student in terms of access, accommodation, sensitivity and respect towards them. One can only wonder what must be happening in the rural heartland of India where both ‘awareness’ and ‘sensitivity’ towards disabled is relatively quite low.
Suddenly, I realized that Indian society sees “disability” as a homogeneous concept, when in reality there are multiple levels of disability. People in general, only recognize persons with disability as someone either on a wheelchair, someone walking with a stick or visually challenged people. Because of this myopic understanding of disability, people generally dislike any special provision provide to those differently-abled persons, who in their eyes are not “disabled enough” to get special treatment.
What happened after that was more disappointing. After I refused to stand in general queue, the cashier said that I should go and take the token of senior-citizen. This was quite baffling. I asked him why I should take the token of “senior-citizen” to which he replied that there were no “separate” tokens for persons with disabilities and since. Only two kinds of token are released, one under General Category and other for Senior Citizens. I asked why there are no separate tokens for persons with disabilities, to which he first got irritated and then replied by saying that since Persons with Disabilities are very small in number, therefore they clubbed them together with Senior Citizens.
This response is quite unsatisfactory. It shows the lack of priority given to persons with disabilities, where they are clubbed with an entirely different category, just because they are smaller in number. Why could they not come up with separate tokens for “differently-abled” people. Is it such a big administrative and technical task to make desired changes, or is it just the lack of intent on the part of authorities to give low priority to the 80 million disabled population of this country.
The third which I noticed in the banks is the insensitive attitude of people in general when they see any differently-abled trying to get their work done without having to stand in queues. The way they address persons with disability is just inappropriate and insensitive. Use of words like langda (handicapped), andha (visually impaired) and loola (maimed hands) etc is extensively to address persons with disabilities.
Using such insensitive words to address persons with disability is a general norm in India and this is what I saw even in the banks. All the Accessible India Campaigns, disability laws, provisions can’t do much till the time society as a whole starts giving due respect to a person with disability and not see them as somebody “other” than the usual mainstream.
This “othering” is the root of the problem. In the whole demonetisation process, the experience of differently-abled people has not been pleasant, to say the least.