GUWAHATI, Nov 18 – In an incident that lays bare the abject failure of the NF Railway in providing basic facilities to the physically challenged, 15 children of various age groups had to endure uncalled-for hardships in boarding a train to New Delhi from Guwahati yesterday. The children of Shishu Sarothi were invited to perform a play Buddhuram at the Jashne Bachpan Festival: 2012 organized by the National School of Drama (NSD) scheduled for November 20 in New Delhi.
Their ordeal started right from the time they started arriving at the Guwahati Railway Station around 5 am and found the gate of the ramp (from the parking area reserved only for employees of Railways) locked. The executive director from the NGO Shishu Sarothi, a wheel-chair user himself, had to head for the office of the station master that was also found locked.
Thereafter, another senior NFR official was approached, and the official proved to be more sympathetic. However, even though he could open the access to the ramp, he was unable to provide adequate number of wheelchairs which were required to ferry the children.
With no provisions for lifts, many differently-abled children had to be assisted over a flight of stairs and across a foot-over-bridge to reach platform-7, where the Down Sampark Kranti Express was stationed. It was an arduous effort amidst the rush of passengers who had arrived by another train.
It was in the nick of time that the children and teachers could reach the sleeper coach (S-3). But when they finally reached, the coach was found to be without any power supply. In darkness, the children had to arrange their belongings.
More serious travails awaited the wheelchair users who had to cross over from platform No. 1 to 7. Bereft of a lift or escalator in the station or even a bare minimum ramp, the wheelchair users had to be taken through a circuitous route and made to cross over open tracks with locomotives parked in the vicinity. This route is actually meant to tow hand carts loaded with parcels to be despatched by train.
Arman Ali, executive director of Shishu Sarothi, expressed his dismay over the sorry state of affairs.
“It is beyond my understanding how NFR could be so insensitive to the needs of the disabled. Persons with disabilities in the State are made to feel like second class citizens. It is humiliating to be treated as objects,” Ali said.
The trip over the unmanned tracks was more dangerous because of lack of warning systems and also due to lack of artificial illumination in the early hours. To negotiate the path in total darkness would be a nightmare putting lives at serious risk, Ali added.