How many times have we heard demands for greater facilities available for persons with disabilities in schools and universities? How often have we seen such facilities incorporated in campus infrastructures? Are all spaces easily accessible to those who may be visually impaired or are wheelchair-bound? Why is it that despite there being rules and regulations for equality in the field of education, it still appears to favour the able and the privileged more? Lack of provisions such as ramps, designated lanes, guides, medical equipment, etc. act as setbacks that may severely hamper a student or staff member’s movements. Why must certain elements come only through personal initiatives? And why, if once established, is external aid taken away on the pretext of development, or other such excuses?
Because that is exactly what happened in December 2017 when the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) demolished a hostel that was being run and occupied by visually impaired students in Virender Nagar, Janakpuri. Initially used as an anganwadi centre (centres across the country which provides basic healthcare in villages), it later became Louis Welfare Progressive Association of the Blind, and had been running for the past seven years. The building was reportedly razed down due to encroachment issues without prior notice, as claimed by those living in the hostel.
Currently living on roadsides, redressal seems to be an uncertain reality. By clearing out the land that apparently belongs to the organisation, they have made lives further difficult as the students have lost important documents such as certificates, applications, and books – all written in Braille, and not available in abundance. Many complained of having lost proof of educational qualifications and experiences gained that would have been crucial in their acquiring a job later. They also highlighted problems related to lack of accommodation, as they are now living with ‘pigs and dogs’ as published in a report by The Indian Express, without mattresses and other basic amenities. Although promises of rehabilitation are being made on ‘humanitarian’ grounds, the students are voicing out their concerns about being separated, as they depend on one another for support.
Without offering any proper rehabilitation, or first addressing illegal occupation by the rich and privileged throughout the city, this action points to nothing short of a power game. Delhi is considered to be one of the best cities for acquiring a good education, and many come from afar, brave a lot of hardships, and find solutions to a lot of problems, to come here and try to build a secure future. But such downfalls could prove to be life-threatening. What with the psychological impact, and lack of housing facilities in the cold weather, such a heartless and insensitive act by the government could indeed worsen a situation that already puts them at a disadvantage. Instead of ensuring good facilities to groups that are in need of them, such decisions impact not just the affected parties, but everyone.
A seemingly imbalanced and superficial development would only increase the gap between the privileged and the underprivileged, which will lead to further disparity. In the present scenario, preference is being given only to those who satisfy basic requirements of being self-dependent – ignoring the fact that uplifting comparatively disadvantaged groups would lead to equal growth in different sectors of the economy. Instead of addressing such problem areas, and ensuring sensitive handling and non-recurrence of harmful actions, agencies such as the DDA seem to be only looking for personal convenience, thereby putting many at great risk.
Image used for representational purposes only.