Virali Modi is a writer, a former Miss Wheelchair India runner-up, a voice jockey, Quora’s top writer for the last three years consecutively and a motivational speaker. She is also differently-abled as she was paralyzed at the age of 14. This did not dampen Virali’s spirit, but the issue of accessibility has been a problem for her every time she travels by public transport. This is the reason Virali has filed an online petition with Change.org, titled #MyTrainToo, to request Union Railway Minister and PM Narendra Modi to implement disabled-friendly measures in Indian Railways.
“I’ve been groped and manhandled three separate times by porters. They were helping me board the train because Indian trains are not wheelchair accessible. I am a disabled woman living in Mumbai who loves to travel,” wrote Virali in her petition.
“I travelled for the first time in a train in August of 2008 from Mumbai to Delhi. When I had to get in the train, my mother called two porters. They looked me up and down and gave a disgusting look.”
The former Miss Wheelchair India runner-up in 2014 added, “I have had to wear a diaper because I couldn’t use the train bathroom. And when I needed to change that diaper, I had no privacy and had to wait for hours for the lights to go off at night.”
Raised in Pennsylvania, USA, Virali came to India in 2008 for the first time after becoming paralysed and that is when she realised how inaccessible the public places here are for the disable people. She revealed that she had “harrowing experiences, especially in railway stations” where even when there are ramps, they were full of potholes, tobacco stains etc.
She told SheThePeople.TV, “I travelled for the first time in a train in August of 2008 from Mumbai to Delhi. When I had to get in the train my mother called two porters. They looked me up and down and gave a disgusting look. Then as they were carrying me, it was not normal at all and one of them did some hand movements around my chest. I felt humiliated but I did not want to create a scene as already everyone around me was looking at me like I was some kind of a victim because of paralysis. So I let it go at that time.”
Virali travelled two more times in a train from Mumbai to Delhi in 2011 and 2014 when similar incidents happened with her. But as there was no sensitivity around bringing in accessibility for the disabled people by the government and general public, she could not do anything.
However, this January, Virali wrote an open letter to the PMO, which went unanswered. About her motive of starting an online petition, Virali said, “Actually, the PMO replied to me, saying that my case was transferred to the ministry of external affairs which further just closed my case as it was not related to my plea in any way. I could not quite understand why my case was transferred to that ministry instead of ministry of railways, so I then started an online petition about it.”
Virali currently works at Cox & Kings and she has travelled widely to various countries, including the US, parts of Africa and Europe, South Korea, Canada etc and she found that India is the most unaccessible and unfriendly towards disabled people. She added, “Although Africa isn’t accessible as well, but people there are very courteous and willing to help unlike in Indian where out of 10,000 people, probably one or two will help.”
“People do help here but they don’t come forward themselves.”
Virali is hopeful that her petition will bring a change and help in making the country disabled-friendly. She also has high hopes from the current government as she believes that it is at least sensitive towards the issue and launching initiatives like ‘Accessible India’ to eradicate the problem.
Sminu Jindal, who is also crusading to make India accessible through her NGO Svayam, said in an interview, “Basically being on a wheelchair, I realised that the infrastructure and moving about on a daily basis is not easy. And yet, I realised that a larger chunk of population was also affected by inaccessibility like pregnant women, children with broken bones. Age is another factor that none of us can escape. We are now living in multi-floored buildings; Delhi is no more a city with single-floored houses. All these things led me to believe that we need to work on accessibility and we must have something that makes general masses aware of what is available to them by the government also in terms of benefits.”
Sminu is collaborating with the government on changing the infrastructure to bring the differently-abled out of their homes.
Currently, the petition has got 155,161 supporters and needs 44,839 more signatures for it to reach the ministry of railways, women and child development and PMO.