MAYA ROSE FERNANDES
If you live in Panjim, you can’t have missed the colour purple splashed everywhere from the start of Avenida Dom Joao de Castro to Miramar Circle last week.
Vivid signage, cardboard cut-outs and bright lights marked the second edition of International Purple Fest Goa, India’s one of a kind, first time ever festival celebrating persons with disabilities.
The event was organised by the Office of the State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities Goa.
It was put together in collaboration with other responsible departments like the Directorate of Social Welfare Goa, the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India.
In addition, a number of disability rights and services organisations from across India added their support and presence to the event.
It was heartening to see arts and crafts, embroidery, candles, artworks and other items, made by people living with disabilities, on display in stalls.
The number of attendees were bumped up by mass attendances of schoolchildren, barely informed about, or qualified to ask anything about what they are seeing or hearing from discussions.
There were some equipment providers present, displaying the latest technology to supposedly improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities.
But, here’s the reality of these large scale fests: they display the superficiality of things so that people can pat themselves on the back with the illusion of progress.
If they were truly making a difference, at the very least, you’d see increased accessibility seamlessly woven into your everyday life, instead of the constant stigmatisation that persons with disabilities continue to face on a daily basis.
Persons living with disabilities have been selling their arts and crafts and displaying them for decades in India – here is nothing new.
Schoolchildren are exposed to these festivals en masse every year and given no context to understand what they are witnessing.
Equipment providers are passively present and unable to actually answer questions that cater to specific needs. Their lack of knowledge and training is stark.
The venue boasted accessibility for all, and the availability of thirty wheelchair accessible rickshaws.
One of my wheelchair-bound friends decided to test out the rickshaw and found that drivers weren’t confident about hooking his wheelchair in, seemed to lack experience driving this kind of rickshaw and then had to deal with a breakdown in the middle of a very busy road with my friend stuck on it.
There are a handful of institutions, like Sethu and Disability Rights Association of Goa, besides a few government institutions, that provide support, guidance and information to the community about the rights and services that persons with disabilities can avail of.
But, we are entering the 8th year of the ‘Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016,’ and are yet to see strategic and sustained implementation and outworking of activities that significantly improve the quality of life of this marginalised and largely stigmatised community, protecting their rights and providing services that truly empower from within the system.
Where were the hotel owners, property developers, urban planners and designers, architects, restaurant owners and others at the festival? They are the ones who should have been attending en masse.
Where are the pilot projects that are being scaled up, the demonstrations of innovative planning in design, the articulation of contextualised needs that are to be met for true accessibility for all?
We can’t speak about inclusivity if these are not the predominant discussions being had in these spaces.
Are Arts and Culture funding opportunities actively reaching out to communities? Or is the ‘othering’ of persons with disabilities going to continue?
It is a sad reality that many, if not most of, persons living with disabilities are also living with chronic pain – physical and emotional. Those who have had to live with pain know that it takes up a lot of physical, mental and emotional energy.
On top of that, if one has to constantly be hyper-vigilant and fight for access to built environments in order to have a decent quality of life, are we not subjecting them to abuse by deepening their pain and robbing them of their valuable and limited resources of energy?
When I asked for their impressions of the festival, the same wheelchair-bound friend told me that while it was wonderful to catch up with friends from the community across India again, and to watch the paralympic sports activities in the indoor stadium, most of the festival’s activities were nothing new or innovative.
They said that persons with disabilities are barely seeing any movement or improvement in their quality of life, compared to what it should be, given the Act and other key pieces of legislation now in place.
Implementation is what is sorely lacking. Individuals are still having to litigate against airlines, institutions or companies for access and inclusion, and against stigmatisation.
In Goa, it’s heartening to know that most police stations and schools have ramps in place, but so much more is still needed and progress is still moving at a snail’s pace.
To conclude, here’s the kicker. All of us are heading towards old age, and like it or not, the longer we live the less mobile and more pain-ridden we will become. We may resist the word ‘disability’ but it’s an inevitability, with old age.
My relatively healthy father has slow-onset Parkinson’s disease which lessens his mobility, and in his late eighties, still manages to get around better than many others younger that he.
We decided to have lunch at a four star, Panjim-based hotel restaurant that boasts amazing views over the city. Thankfully, the hotel had a working lift, but no wheel-chair accessible ramp.
Also thankfully, my father was still in a position to climb up the hotel entrance stairs to get to the lobby.
I complained to the people at the registration desk that I couldn’t believe that they hadn’t met the requirements to make their hotel entrance disability-friendly.
So, here’s my question: Why am I, a customer, still having to point out to the staff of a four star hotel, that claims concierge and valet parking service, that they have a requirement to be accessible to people with disabilities?
And, what can a large-scale, well-resourced jamboree like ‘International Purple Fest 2024’ do to affect this kind of much-needed change?