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A nightmarish bus ride

Mon, 07/30/2012 - 17:57 -- admin

Travelling on Delhi 's buses is, to say the least, a harrowing experience for most. For some, as Rajesh Kumar shows us, it becomes a terrifying nightmare.

It is generally very unpleasant to travel by bus in the capital as they provide uncomfortable passage for everyone, not just for vision-impaired travellers. Commuters reach their destination squeezed and sandwiched in the overcrowded vehicles, jostling and elbowing each other, falling over one another, pushing and pulling among themselves, trampling fellow passengers' feet and squabbling over myriad inconveniences.

Now consider the same journey for blind persons. We face several additional problems, when using Delhi 's buses, as I can testify from my experience. An account of one journey is enough to demonstrate how seemingly small obstacles can turn a simple journey into a nightmare.

At 11.30 one night, I was returning from the Blind Relief Association. As usual I got down at Laxmi Nagar to change my bus. The place was alive with people and the cacophony of traffic. I waited for 10 minutes and then the bus bound for my place of residence arrived. The bus was jam-packed as it was the last service for the day. I could sense the presence of women passengers even on the footboard. As I boarded the bus, I carefully edged and pushed my way to the handicapped seat.

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I asked the person who was already sitting there: "Could you vacate the handicapped seat for me?" I did not receive any response. I repeated my question, speaking a little louder, thinking that the humming of the rickety bus had stolen my request. I still did not receive any response. Eventually a voice shot from the left row: "This is not the handicapped seat." "Which is the handicapped seat then?" I asked the person. My question met unwarranted silence. I felt flustered for a moment, because I have no way of locating the seat designated for disabled people, as it carries no Braille sign, although it is written in print overhead, which is of course of no use for sightless passengers.

I again repeated my request, asking for the seat. "Did you not hear that this is not the handicapped seat?" the occupant replied finally breaking his silence. "Which is the handicapped seat then?" I repeated my question. "That's not my responsibility to tell you," he said.

That's a typically awkward situation, I thought to myself. Neither could I prove to him beyond doubt that this is not the handicapped seat, nor could I force him to tell me where it was. My personal experience has taught me that there are some people who do not hesitate to take undue advantage of disability. Although blind passengers cannot point towards the printed rubric overhead, it is known to them that the second seat from the front is the handicapped seat, and that's exactly where I was standing.

Till then I had been oscillating between two options: should I renounce my legal claim, which of course I could have done with pleasure if the occupant had professed any inability, or should I pursue the matter further with insistence? I think that I could not use the first option, because the tight-lipped reticence, attempt to mislead me, and discourteous verbal exchanges wounded me deeply. I found it very discomforting.

I should mention here that blind commuters cannot know who is sitting on the seat, whether an elderly woman or little baby, unless they are told.

I, therefore, chose the second alternative, and I once again asked the person to vacate the seat. This time probably his wife who was sitting next to him sharing the same seat spoke: "Why do you travel if you cannot see?" "Do I need to tell you everything about why I do what?" I retorted.

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Then I turned to the driver for help. He said rudely: "You are reaping the fruits of what you had done in the previous birth; and in the next you will reap the fruits of what you are doing now." I was too stunned to say anything. "Shut up and keep standing," he said with a sense of authority and finality. It was outrageous and scandalous, this treatment by the driver. I considered for a moment about lodging a complaint against him, but it would not have been of any use -- I did not know what the registration number of the bus was as it had not been written in Braille.

Thereafter many of the passengers ganged up against me, and a heated exchange followed. I still remember out of that din that one of the passengers threatened: "You will be thrown out of the running bus if you say anything more." I felt frightened and scared as it was the dead of the night and I was completely alone. I was worried that they could carry out their threats.

After a long tussle, the occupant gave me the seat; why, I do not know. I presume that the tussle turned him into a butt of ridicule and an object of attention, which perhaps forced him to get up from the seat. Having settled down, I tried to regain my mental composure, but it eluded me, as passengers began to recount their worst experiences with blind people among themselves. Although it discomfited me inwardly, silence was the best shield to protect me against prospective unpleasantness.

Finally I reached my destination. I felt immensely relieved, being back safely on familiar land, although my discomfort made my journey seem very, very long that night.

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