Monday, January 31, 2011

Miles to go before we sleep...

The International Kolkata Book Fair 2011 is here! I have already visited it thrice and feel like going over again, as are millions and millions. Did you notice the ramp at the Food Court? Did you notice the Food court? Did you notice how the road in most parts have been smoothened and flattened, easier to walk on? Well, its to a large part due to advocacy and lobbying by the West Bengal Disability Activist Forum (DAF), a state level forum of NGOs, Persons with Disabilities and individuals.

DAF has been lobbying with the Book Sellers and Publisher's Guild for quite sometime now on the issue of accessibility at the Book Fair. Apart from cordial meetings, nothing much came out of it, except in October. When the BS&PG "promised" to make the Fair accessible by issuing notices to stall owners to add ramps to each stalls and this was reported in the media too. So, DAF was understandably happy.

However, the single most important thing asked for and promised - the ramps to the stalls which were more in number compared to the Halls (which did have ramps) were missing.

DAF organised a meeting at the ampitheatre in the Milon Mela grounds and then all the participants, Children and Persons with Disabilities, parents, NGO staff walked through the fair and to the Publishers Guild were they demanded an explanation.

I guess the BS&PG were caught napping since surrounded by some 100 irate people and the media (who had sniffed a possible "breaking news"), they could only come up with silliest of statements and excuses: Not our responsibility / Why do they need to come to the book fair? / Why do they need to go to all the stalls (go only to those with ramps) / It is not possible etc / This is just a publicity gimmick etc.

The rally making its way to the Guild House

Surrounding the Guild house

Very few passers by (and there were many) stopped to find out what was happening. Most were curious or angry at their path blocked or aired summary statements - Jekhanei mohila sekhanei jhamle (there will be trouble when women are around) / They are angry since they haven't been given stalls etc.

This is not an issue in any developed nation since ramps have been made compulsory a very long time ago. Handrails, patterned floor tiles (for the visually impaired), ramps, wide doorways to accomodate wheel chairs, flat steps (for those using callipers and crutch) are inbuilt in to the system and never have to be mentioned.

Remember, India did sign the UNCRPD and with a flourish ... one of the first countries to do so. And yet, "eder ekhane ashar ki dorkar?" is the reality. All DAF asked for was a simple wooden ramp instead of steps at the entrance of each stall. Like Oliver, they dared to ask for more?!

But we live in hope. Six ramps (one at the food court, and 5 at the entrance of the 5 halls) is a begining. Our small rally might have started something good. But we have miles to go before we sleep ... to remind all of us ... that we (as a nation) have promises to keep.


Anonymous said...

Great start - hopefully your attempts at sensitization will result in much more differently-abled infrastructure at the fair next year...

cyclopseven said...

Inclusiveness is yet to find a firm footing in our society, but this should not silence the voice of those aspiring to achieve a greater inclusiveness.

Read if you will

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