India is home to the world’s largest differently-abled population, and yet, the efforts by our government to ease their lives is close to none. In an interview with Divyanshu Ganatra, blind psychologist, disability rights advocate and paraglider, we talked about how it’s less about ‘helping’ this community of people so much as it is about empowering them to take their lives into their own hands and make choices for themselves. Even though the Persons with Disabilities (PwD) Act was passed in 1995, very few infrastructural facilities in our country are accessible for those with special needs. In its race to the top, the government needs to remember that for India to be taken seriously on the global stage, it is important that we start taking all our citizens and their needs into consideration.
Albeit several decades late, we have started taking slow and steady steps towards this. Last December, the Modi-government launched the Accessible India campaign under which India would be transformed into a differently-abled friendly country.Taking inspiration from the campaign, the Gujarat state government decided to take up a project of it own—give the country its first ever accessible beach. An accessible beach is one which has been designed to allow a person with disabilities to access it without any assistance. At present, the world has only ten such beaches. And now Gujarat’s Tithal beach will join their ranks.
Construction on the three kilometer long beach, which includes slops and detailed signage will take place in two phases.The authorities hope to open one kilometer stretch that will have open access right up to the waters with disabled-friendly food courts, washrooms and entertainment area by June.In the first phase, the government will spend up to Rs. 5 crores. The remaining two kilometers will follow.
“It will be first of its kind beach in India,” said Vikrant Pandey, the Valsad collector while talking to The Mirror. The entire plan was formulated after collecting inputs from disabled people. From bathrooms to found counters, they plan to revamp the entire beach so that it can be accessed by a differently-abled citizen without any sort of assistance. “We will have ramps and railings from the parking area to the water,” Pandey added.
Nafisa Barot, the executive director of Utthan, an NGO based out of Gujarat, applauded the government’s efforts. “I am glad to see sensitivity for disabled people in the government, but it should not be limited to tokenism. The construction should be such that the disabled can really make the most out of it,” she said.
Of course, this is just a small step towards achieving the bigger picture. Our history on this front hasn’t been very flattering, considering most of our monuments only became accessible in 2001, after Stephen Hawking announced his desire to visit the Taj Mahal, Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, Jantar Mantar, and Qutub Minar. But this is definitely a promising start.
Words: Krupa Joseph