15 October 2016 | 9:00 PM: Jawaharlal Nehru University Visually Challenged Student’s Forum (JNUVCS Forum) organized a one-day long programme on the occasion of World White Cane Day on 15 October 2016. The programme started with a seminar in the Library Committee Room from 3 to 5 PM. Later in the evening a group of some hundred students took part in a march organized by the Forum from Ganga dhaba to Ad Block. The march started at around 9:00 PM and ended with a cultural programme and speeches by the special guest and members of the Forum at the Ad Block.
The seminar in the afternoon was entitled ‘How the Office of the Chief Commissioner for the Persons with Disabilities may be Boon for the Struggle of Disabled for their Rights’ or ‘The Achievements of the Office of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities in the Recent Past’. The Office of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities was established under Section 57 of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights & Full Participation) Act, 1995 and is responsible for upholding the rights of persons with disabilities. The post of Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities currently is held by Dr Kamlesh Kumar Pandey who was the principal speaker at the event.
At the seminar Dr Pandey spoke about the significance and the powers vested on the Office to discharge its duties ranging from monitoring of the utilization of funds, to implementing reservations to judicial powers of the Chief Commissioner; and how it has been instrumental in ensuring accessibility to all.
The march in the evening was a lively affair with loud chants and sloganeering. ‘No pain, white cane’, ‘kitni bhi andheri raat hai, chadi humare saath hai, darne ki kya baat hai, chadi humare saath hai’, and ‘hum kya chahen? Mobility! Mobility with accessibility, and everywhere possibility’ rang out loud and clear in the campus.
The march culminated with the various members of the JNUVCS Forum addressing the crowd gathered: Yogesh Yadav, Rishi Raj, and Avinash spoke in turns about the organization, the significance of the White Cane Day, and laid out their set of agendas and demands for the future. Yogesh also introduced the chief guest for the evening, TOI ex-journalist and former CEO of Star India, Uday Shankar, who happens to be a JNU alumnus. The programme started with a welcome song by Gunjan, Anjali, and other members of the organization.
The JNUVCS Forum was established in 2006; it was the same year in which the Helen Keller Unit was set up in the Library. Yogesh informed the audience that the organization has been the leading voice in major national discourses on disabilities in the country; it has been in the forefront in ensuring admissions to PwD candidates, securing services, and creating awareness regarding the rights of the disabled in the campus. JNU, he announced, is the only university in the country which allows blind students to cast their votes independently, where the candidates’ names are available in a format accessible to them. There are some eighty blind students in the campus at present; however, he said the facilities have not expanded in proportion to the growing number of students.
The Forum then laid out its separate set of demands addressed to the administration, the Student’s Union, and the student’s community. The Forum asked the administration to curb the dog menace. Mere sterilization is not a solution; it was agreed that the administration should take pre-emptive steps to reduce the number of stray dogs in the campus. Necessary steps should also be taken to limit the number of feeding sites. Implementation of the 3 percent reservation in faculty positions, hostel hygiene, expansion of the Helen Keller unit, and sending online notices to correct the information gap were some other demands set forth.
The students demanded that the Student’s Union include a representative from the PwD community. They also asked the Student’s Union to raise voice for a Disability Empowerment Cell. Addressing the general student’s community, the Forum asked for an alternative discourse on disability and greater sensitization and recognition of the rights and needs of the disabled. They especially asked the students to keep the tactile path in the campus free, not use the ramp meant for disabled students, and be careful while driving on the streets.
Raghvendra Mishra from the Sanskrit Centre, who is also the treasurer of the JNUVCS Forum, told The Informer about the need for spreading awareness and sensitizing the student’s community towards the requirements as well as problems faced by the blind students in the campus. He mentioned how some blind students have difficulties during meal times and provisions should be made for the same. He also spoke about the need for casting votes online during hostel elections. This year at Periyar, hostel elections will be done through e-votes. Earlier, Yogesh also spoke about the lack of adequate transport facilities; the bus service in the campus was stopped abruptly.
JNUVCS Forum had organized two protest marches on 6 September and 28 September respectively. A contingent also met the VC on 6 September; however no decisive action has been taken regarding the concerns raised by the community. The members declared if need be they will go on a dharna or hunger strike to force the administration to take heed of their demands.
The white cane represents ‘awareness, activeness, creativity, mobility, independence and empowerment’, said Avinash, ‘it not only shows us the way, expand our horizons … it is also a symbol of pride’. ‘It is not just a mobility tool, it’s like a lifeline’, reiterated Yogesh. Santosh summed up the sentiments succinctly through his song, amidst loud cheers and applause: ‘baayen haath mein ghadi daayen mein chaddi, dono ka sangam bada suhana hai … aur har drishtiheen ab Louie ka diwana hai, diwana hai … aur har drishtiheen ab Milton ka diwana hai, diwana hai….’
The Informer correspondent