“It’s high time my voice is heard,” says Virali Modi with conviction.
And she wants her voice to be heard by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, with whom she wants to address the problems faced by the disabled population while traveling in the country’s trains.
Virali is a tenacious disability rights activist, writer, actress and the Miss Wheelchair runner-up 2014. And through the years, she has suffered in the hands of the Indian Railways multiple times where she has been manhandled and groped due to her disability. And she wants that to stop.
“I was groped by porters who had to pick me up and take me to the compartment not once but three times. And when I got into compartments, I had to deal with prying eyes; people who just stared but never came forward to help,” says Virali.
Photo source: Facebook
Ask her what she would change about the current railways infrastructure if she had a chance, she reels off a list to make the system far more accessible for everybody.
“First, they need to make the ramps better. They need to either make the trains lower or the platforms higher. They need to have automated lifts that roll right into the compartments. The compartments themselves need to be wider so wheelchairs can fit,” she says. She also notes that even toilets in Indian trains are not accessible. “The sinks need to be lower and the commodes need to be higher so a person can transfer themselves from a wheelchair to the toilet seat.”
She has now started a Change.org petition to reach out to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Indian Railways Suresh Prabhu, so they can address them. In the petition, she notes that quite often the “railways treat the disabled as a piece of luggage.”
So far, the petition, which has gone viral, has over 80,000 signatures from people across India.
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Photo source: Facebook
Part of the reason Virali wants to talk to the government is because she believes that an able-bodied person will not be able to understand the problems faced by a disabled person and hence won’t be able to address specific issues.
“There are so many issues that disabled people face everyday in India. It’s not just in railways; there are issues with public transportation in general, including buses and even roads. There are millions of us who are disabled and we deserve to have an inclusive system that helps everybody,” she adds.
According to the latest numbers as of 2011, there are 2.68 crore disabled people in India, out of which 20.3% of them are movement-disabled.
Virali says that by making the railways inclusive, it just won’t be for the disabled but also those who may have temporary injuries or the elderly who struggle with movement.
She also wants the general public to become more sensitive.
“People sometimes tend to lack in courtesy and that needs to change. Sensitising people should also be the government’s duty. They should be conducting campaigns and releasing ads that talk about how one ought to treat those with disabilities. There is so much that can be done.”
But for now she just wants an audience. To just sit in front of two of the most powerful men in India and state her case for inclusivity. And hopefully she gets heard.
To sign Virali’s petition, click here