Victor Rodrigues was just a boy when a medical condition left him unable to walk without a crutch, but in all other ways, the 45-year-old had always considered himself able. All his life, he had done things on his own, and was never made to feel dependent or disabled. That is, until a humiliating experience with Konkan Railway last week.

Victor Rodrigues, who walks with a crutch but doesn’t need help, says rules like this chip away at a person’s confidence. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Victor Rodrigues, who walks with a crutch but doesn’t need help, says rules like this chip away at a person’s confidence. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

At a time when this country still lacks basic facilities for the disabled, one of the few concessions it does offer is a disabled quota in railway bookings. It was under this quota that Victor booked passage from Mumbai to Karnataka and back on the Matsyagandha Express, both for himself and a mandatory escort. However, when none of his family members were available to accompany him, the Andheri resident decided to travel on his own — after all, he was a perfectly independent man.

Victor Rodrigues may need a crutch to walk, but does not depend on anyone
Victor Rodrigues may need a crutch to walk, but does not depend on anyone

The Railways didn’t think so. On June 3, as Victor was travelling back to Mumbai, the ticket checker (TC) turned up at Bhatkal and asked to check his ticket. The TC asked Victor where his escort was, and Victor explained that he was alone. “When I told him I did not have an escort, he said my ticket was cancelled. It was evening and I would have been unable to go back, so I told the TC I would pay the fine,” he recalled.

“My mother usually travels with me, but she was out of the country. I had asked my brother to accompany me but he was unable to get leave and so I had to go alone. While going to Udupi, I was not asked about my escort and I gave the seat away to a fellow traveller. It was on my way back that I experienced a problem,” he added.

Not only was Victor made to pay a fine just because he was travelling independently, but he had to pay the same penalty listed for travelling without any ticket. “I got a receipt that said that I was fined for not having an escort. The fine amount I paid was that of travelling without a ticket, even though I had a ticket. The TC said the ticket was invalid without an escort, but this is not mentioned anywhere on the ticket or on the IRCTC website. Railways should assist disabled passengers and not impede their independence,” said the 45-year-old.

His brother, Wilson, who picked him up from Lokmanya Tilak Terminus, said, “Juvenile Arthiritis had left Victor disabled since the age of nine, but he is able in many ways. He can walk independently with a crutch; he even takes the Mumbai local to his college in Goregaon, where he is a philosophy student. When I heard of the fine, I was livid — yes he needs help to carry his bags, but he can manage otherwise. He is differently abled, this rule makes him dependent. Just because I was unable to get leave that does not mean he should have to depend on me for his travel.”

Victor’s uncle, Julian Rodrigues said, “The escort rule is binding rather than liberating, there should be some change in it – taking an escort should be made optional.”