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Poonch, July 27 (ANI): To make public spaces more accessible for the physically <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>disabled people, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment is creating a portal where a person with disability or any other person will be able to upload pictures and status of accessibility of buildings and public spaces via an app.

The Centre’s ambitious Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan) will start from seven states – Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Assam, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Haryana- from this year, envisaging a nation-wide awareness campaign towards universal accessibility for all citizens including persons with disabilities.

Twenty-three year old Naseem Akhter, a polio patient, welcomes the initiative but wants to understand the definition of ‘accessibility’ here. Residing in the tough geography of border district Poonch, located two hundred and fifty kilometers from Jammu city, for her nothing outside her house is accessible.

“I was two and a half-year old when polio struck me. Since then I have become completely dependent on my family. All I can do is to walk a few steps inside my house that too with the help of a stick,” shares Naseem who falls outside the radar of both central and state government.

A resident of Village Arai located approximately thirty kilometers from Poonch town in Mandi tehsil, Naseem shares her sufferings with seventy two more polio patients. Divided into three Panchayats – Malka, Haveli and Peera, Arai is far-far away from development. Water, electricity, education, healthcare, with no basic facilities available, life is difficult for everyone here and more so for the ones fighting polio.

Twenty-six year old Shahnaz Akhter, a polio patient who later suffered a paralysis stroke, has spent entire life on her bed. “At the age of five she was diagnosed of polio but with her sheer determination she managed to go to school. Soon after appearing for class 3 exams, she lost her voice to a paralysis attack that gripped her entire body,” shares Mohammad Farooque, Shahnaz’s brother.

Shahnaz stays indoors till someone carries her outside. Summer, winter, sunshine, rain – for her every season is spent on her charpoy.

What is special about the physically <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>disabled people in Arai is their willingness to work. “It is only our body that doesn’t support us. We have enough brains to understand work but our physical limitation doesn’t allow us to work efficiently” are the thoughts of almost every physically-<strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>disabled in Arai.

“In Panchayat Malka, there are total 26 <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>disabled persons. Some of them managed to complete their schooling and are helping their parents in inherited occupation despite their limitation,” says Mohammad Hussain, a local resident.

Government has been pretending to help our people, says Riyaz Malik, a social activist from Arai. “Inhabited by a population of over 5000, there are no hospitals, active healthcare centers, roads – things which play a very imperative role for the physically <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>disabled residing in tough geographical areas. They want to study but in the absence of disabled-friendly infrastructure they are forced to quit their dreams,” rues Riyaz.

Ironically, Arai was recognized as a ‘Model Village’ in 2014.

Mohammad Ishaaq, another polio patient, shares his story – “After my father’s demise, responsibility of my family fell on my shoulders. It was a tough task to go to school every day on this serpentine track but I managed to complete class 10. As there is no higher secondary school here in my village, the only option was to go to Mandi. I couldn’t as it is not only expensive but due to lack of transportation facilities not feasible for people with disabilities like me.”

Under the Scheme of Assistance to Disabled Persons (ADIP SCHEME) for purchase/fitting of aids/appliances launched by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in 2005, motorised tricycles for persons with locomotor disability that are likely to cost more than Rs. 6,000 may be procured and provided in exceptional cases subject to prior approval of ministry on case to case basis. These people submitted their application many a times but to no avail.

The pension provided by our government to the physically <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>disabled is Rs. 400 per month. “To go to hospital in the town, we have to hire a labourer for Rupees 400 to carry us on cot. The pension that never reaches us on time and makes no big difference in our lives,” says Abdul Baki who is 90 per cent <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>disabled.

For him, transfer of pension directly to banks is another painful story. “Earlier, money would come via post. But now we have to go to banks to get our money. If I could go to bank 10 kilometers downhill, I could also go and beg in the bazaar,” said Abdul, who feels that the government is indifferent.

The impression is that government officials show no sensitivity towards the physically <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>disabled in Poonch. To get a form for one of the <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>disabled girls from Arai village, I had gone to Tehsil Social Welfare Office (Alapeer). There the concerned officer denied to give the form and was told that the girl must come to collect the form. After several requests, he informed that the form could be collected from the district branch. The form was taken but the cost of list of documents required was more than the compensation being offered. Clearly, there is a need to make the process easier.

The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that the policy makers need to keep in mind requirements of people residing in remote, tough geographic locations. “In our village, we cannot connect a phone call without trying for 20-25 times, how we will be able to use that portal only god knows. All I need is a wheel chair without proving my disability again and again,” said Naseem who still dreams of working and earning some money to help her family. Hope the government will understand the priorities of the physically <strong class=’StrictlyAutoTagBold’>disabled people and include it in policies meant for their benefit. (ANI)

The views expressed in the article are of Basharat Hussain Shah, a local activist working in Poonch. (ANI)

By Basharat Hussain Shah

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