A disabled man who was working in Delhi took his tricycle and drove all the way to his home in Bihar. His hands must have been strong. It must have been so difficult to cycle for days.
Did he have enough food and water? Where did he derive all this energy from?
If he had sponsors, he could have done this for charity. He would have had cameras trailing him and would have been considered inspirational by people at large. Except the man happened to be poor.
He was cycling away from starvation. And possible death. There were no records set in this act of desperation. Just a certificate of survival.
There are many stories out there, as people run away from hunger, in search for a home. But for all the stories we hear, there must be so many stories that we don't.
One can only guess what is happening to poor disabled people all across the country.
The ones who are errand boys in tea shops and restaurants, who do some form of daily labour, who beg on the streets to survive. What happens in a family where there is starvation and the disabled family member sits in the corner, helpless and carrying a heavy burden.
Burden, a word they have been made to associate with themselves.
Of course, I can say all this because I am privileged enough to not go through any of this. I am sometimes overwhelmed by shame when I am talking to news publications about my experiences as a disabled person.
Of course, someone has to speak out but who am I to speak for those forgotten by the society. There are others on the margins, who make the news only if there is some kind of a tragedy.
The government uses the category of 'divayngs' for tokenism and applause. It announces schemes that don't apply to all disabled persons and aren't sufficient for their survival. The last speech given by the prime minister gave the disabled community some hope. He said they would protect the disabled.
And we waited with bated breath for the announcements to be made.
Disabled people are amongst the most vulnerable population in the era of COVID-19. Co-morbidities mean that we have to take extra precautions to stay safe.
Why Are Disabled People Invisible in Public Spaces?
Alas, the promise of protection turned out to be nothing.
There was a slide on inclusive education in the last presentation made by the finance minister. Perhaps it was just a slide, perhaps there was something more to it that we were not told about. But how will anyone study anything when they are dying of hunger.
Our rights paradigm fails to go beyond cosmopolitan India.
Even in cities, disabled people are rarely visible in public spaces due to hostile and inaccessible infrastructure. It’s no surprise that those who are poor, live in rural areas and carry with themselves other marginalized identities remain invisible to the mainstream disability discourse which relies heavily on charity and rarely on rights.
In today's India, there are more difficult questions that we must contemplate on. When there are no rights for the marginalized and poor sections of society, can disabled people preserve their rights?
Perhaps we will follow the Indian model where your class determines what rights you have. Flights for the rich, sticks for the poor. There is nothing new about this. Our framework of rights is borrowed from western countries where the standard of living is much higher. And the same goes for disability rights too. And that means, the ambit of rights has never been truly universal.
With the shrinking conscience of the nation, our rights are shrinking too.
I am not sure if the coming years will be better or worse for persons with disabilities. But I am sure the privileged will fight to keep their rights. People like me will continue talking to newspapers, writing columns and living in a world which is cut off from the world of starvation.
There will be many poor disabled people who will die and they will be forgotten. They will die of hunger. They will die of destitution. They will die because the rest of us simply don't care enough. I am not being self righteous here. I am just counting the plain facts. Who has seen poor disabled people anyways? I saw one on a traffic signal a few months ago and immediately my driver reminded me that he was faking his disability. It was all a nexus.
Beggars run extortion rings in this country. Only the privileged and powerful are earnest enough. Everything else is dramebaazi.
(Abhishek Anicca is a poet, researcher and disability rights activist based in Delhi.)