Paraplegic was prompted by unsatisfactory response of PMO to her email, exposing lack of rail infrastructure
Virali Modi would have been spared the sexual assault had the railway ministry been sensitive to the needs of the disabled. The US citizen who resides in Mumbai uploaded a petition on Change.org last week to highlight the risks of sexual assault among others that the disabled are exposed to at railway stations and in trains.
Modi (25), a paraplegic since the year 2006, was prompted by the unsatisfactory response of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to an email she had sent on January 3, which exposed the lack of infrastructure for the disabled in the railways.
In her complaint sent on January 3, a copy of which was marked to railway ministry, she had drawn from her own horrifying experiences of being groped and sexually assaulted by railway porters when being lifted into trains. She had demanded better infrastructure, such as ramps and lifts, at all railway stations to enable easy accessibility.
But she received a cold response. “I was told by the PMO that the grievance didn’t pertain to it and so, it was ‘closing’ my case. I then found out that the complaint had been forwarded to the ministry of external affairs, which has no correlation with the case,” says Modi.
That made her start a Change.org petition - titled Implement Disabled-Friendly Measures in Indian Railways - to “get the government to listen”. The petition is 2,532 short of its target of 75,000 signatures.
Molested 3 times
Modi, a motivational speaker, disability rights advocate and actress, says from 2008-14, she was molested on three instances by railway porters hired to lift her from her wheelchair and into the train berth. “The first time was in Mumbai. The porters looked at me as if I were a piece of meat. They sized me up a few times, before deciding who would handle which part of the body,” she reveals. “One porter held me at the knees and other had his arms beneath my breasts. At first, I thought it was by accident, but the porter’s repeated hand movements confirmed that he was groping me.”
Helpless, Modi could not complain about that horrifying ordeal. “The absence of a lift or a ramp was one of the reasons why I was sexually assaulted,” she says. She suggests that platforms and train aisles be widened to allow wheelchairs in.
Read Story: Mumbai is no city for disabled people
TN Dubey, president of Naisargik Viklang Seva Sangh recommends other amenities like three reserved berths per coach for the disabled and stringent tabs on the use of disabled coaches. “Besides, there are issues with seats and toilets in disabled coaches.”
He estimates that at least 5 per cent of 76 lakh daily rail commuters are disabled, but the coaches reserved for them are often encroached by other passengers.
Disability rights activists have demanded time and again a revamp of toilets and wash basins, widening of berths and curtains for privacy.
What railway officials have to say
A railway official says rail infrastructure is being constantly upgraded to accommodate the needs of the disabled. “For example, the doors of local trains are wider now. There are beepers on platforms to guide the blind. While Narendra Patil, chief PRO, Central Railway, acknowledged the lack of amenities in coaches for the disabled, Ravindra Bhakar, chief PRO, Western Railway, says A and A1 category stations have been made disabled-friendly.
Number of signatures the petition needs to meet its target of 75,000