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
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
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.”
>> In March 2016, the railway ministry was pulled up by the Madras High Court for its ‘absurd’ policy of denying travel concession to disabled people travelling alone. While disabled people across the globe were being provided with facilities, the railways appeared to deprive the more enterprising among the physically challenged who decided to travel alone, said Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice MM Sundresh.
>> In a landmark judgment last month, Jeeja Ghosh got Rs 10 lakh compensation after an airline offloaded her for not having an escort on a flight from Kolkata to Goa in 2012. She suffers from cerebral palsy and the pilot was not comfortable with a handicapped passenger flying on her own.
Varsha Hooja, Trustee & CEO at ADAPT NGO
The authorities just keep passing the buck. There is no respect for the disabled because of the lack of sensitivity. Stereotypes are just strengthened by these compulsory escort norms. If a disabled person feels confident to travel without an escort then the airlines and railways should aid them by providing help where it is needed, rather than further restrict their independent movement.
Nidhi Goyal, Officer at Point of View NGO
Disabled people have different degrees of independence and dependence. Fining someone for not having an escort is laughable. Why are we not being allowed to be independent?
G Karandikar, Public Relations Officer (PRO) for the Konkan Railway, said, “As per the railway rules, an escort is mandatory for a disabled person if he or she books a ticket under the disabled quota. They need assistance and so a provision is made for an escort.” When asked if the rule restricts the independence of disabled people, Karandikar refused to comment, saying it was a universal Indian Railways rule.
Know your rights
Kailash Verma, secretary of Naisargic Viklang Seva Sangh (NVSS), which works for handicapped people in Mumbai, said disabled commuters should be aware of their rights, which include:
>> Ramps to enter and exit the compartment
>> Separate compartment for handicapped people
>> Handicapped people should be given lower berths even in tatkaal booking
>> 75% discount on tickets in long-distance bookings
On Tuesday, the railways passed a General Resolution (GR) allowing handicapped people to travel without escorts.