In Trichy District, TN, blind people struggle to cover the 5 kilometers that lead to the ration shop.
Being blind, or suffering from any form of disability, means that simple, daily acts are likely to turn into an ordeal. Everyday movements performed without much thought by a non-disabled person, are laden with obstacles for a blind person. Such is the case for the blind community living in Gandhi Nagar, Trichy District, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The locality is home to nearly a hundred blind families, who were donated free housing twenty years ago. Most of them eke out a living selling candles and incense sticks. Thanks to the meager sums they earn through this small scale business, and to the free housing they are entitled to, the community lives decently, albeit humbly. However, because of their small earnings, they heavily rely on the provisionsmade available to them at a subsidized rate from the local ration shop to make ends meet.
These items are indispensable to their daily meals, but reaching the shop constitutes a hardship for the community. The shop is located five kilometers away from the village, further distanced from it by a national highway, on which vehicles whizz by at high speed. “If the shop was closer to us, the whole community would be much relieved. We suffer a lot walking five kilometers to get our ration” accounts a villager. The path is hazardous for non-disabled villagers alike:‘‘it’s a very accident-prone road. It’s not easy to cross, neither for the blind, nor for us who can see. It takes almost an hour to cross’’. All in all, it takes up to four hours fora blind person to get his or her basic provisions. Though neighbors help them crossing the road, the walk along the highway is stressful and potentially dangerous. When going for their shopping, people usually leave their home at 8 am, and come back only by 2 pm, loaded with the items they bought.
Margaret, Community Correspondent in the district, has walked alongside the blind people on the way to the shop, listening and recording their grievances. Halfway, a blind woman stops to explain: “It’s a total of five kilometers. I’ve walked three, there are another two to go. Once I reach the highway, it’ll take me thirty minutes to cross over and another thirty to go back”. The villagers have repeatedly attempted to take action, but their demands have remained unmet, and the special needs of the blind community have not been paid attention: “We’ve given petitions to the government. We’ve asked the authorities to shift the ration shop. But all they do is make us run around.”
Taking a look at the lot of the most vulnerable people of a country gives a valuable insight into the attention given to its citizen’s need by a government. Plunging into the daily reality of the blind people in Gandhi Nagar shows that India has still a long way to go to improve the lives of its disabled population. Modest steps have been taken by the government. Thus, a new bill has been drafted in 2010, to secure the rights of those living with disabilities in India. What’s more, India has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Adopting a forward-looking view on disabilities, the Convention underscores that disability results from the interaction of impairment with various barriers that hinder full and active participation in society on an equal basis to others. In this view, society has to be designed and structured to assist disabled people and ensure they have full and safe access to services.
But in India, resources dedicated to improving accessibility of public buildings and government provisions for all, remains scarce. Discriminatory social attitudes also continue to prevail. All are significant obstacles to bring about real equality between citizens.
India has the largest population of blind people in the world. Of the 37 million people across the globe who are blind, 15 million are Indian citizens. Among those, over 75% are suffering from avoidable blindness. Hence, India still has crucial steps to take to fight blindness, but also, as in the case of Gandhi Nagar, to help blind people to lead normal lives in order to realize their full potential.
Since 1998, a Blind Cricket World Cup has been taking place in South Asia. India blind players have scored high in the competition. This is a stunning example of what differently-abled people can achieve in an environment adapted to their needs, and should work as an incentive for the government to improve lives of its disabled citizens.