Thursday, 23 February 2012

Indian Railways for people with disabilities

It was going to be a train trip for me soon after a long time. I was traveling to Puttaparthi by Karnataka Express for darashan of Sri Satya Sai Baba along with my father who is a staunch devotee.  For a number of people train travels were something to look forward to and enjoyable. In fact they were enjoyable for me to till I became severely disabled having to use a wheelchair. Since I became disabled I tried to avoid train travels as much as possible but considering that it was the most affordable means of travel I was forced to use it on occasions.

My father made the bookings well in advance. The railways gave a considerably large concession on the ticket for the disabled traveller and one escort traveling with them making the travel very cheap. We had heard about a ‘Handicapped Coach’ that the railways had introduced in every train. But it was an unreserved coach so a disabled passenger could not reserve it and as a matter of safety and convenience a disabled person would rarely travels unreserved, therefore this coach was useless for us as it still remains to be for most disabled travellers.

Coach for disabled about 2 feet high and a feet away
from the platform without a ramp
I was happy for not having access to this ‘Handicapped Coach’ that the Railways had so generously provided. Firstly the coach was a second-class coach and considering in the scorching heat in May we were going to travel air-conditioned. Secondly the design of the coach was not exceptionally accessible – boarding the train was still going to be difficult and using the toilet was still going to be impossible. The most important reason why I was happy not using this ‘special’ facility was because I did not want to be singled out along with my family and placed separately. I found the entire concept discriminatory. In my mind it was like the British Raj where Indians were not allowed in the same compartment as the British, here the disabled travellers being same as the Indians.

State of the toilet in the coach for disabled people
One of the main preparations for me before a train travel apart from packing was organise my bladder and bowel as the toilets in the train are inaccessible to a disabled person like me. Just because the Railways have designed their coaches to be so inaccessible to the disabled most people with disabilities are faced with this challenge. Considering it was a two-day journey, I needed to stop my intake of food and liquids nearly two days before commencing the journey. It is not easy to do so because as dehydration sets in one begins to feel weak. Needless to say I needed to keep the intake to bare minimum throughout the journey.

Overflowing drinking water facility
This I must point out is just the beginning of the difficulties to travel be train. The Railways is proud of making its large stations accessible to disabled people, but here again there is much to be done. During a visit to the New and Old Delhi railway stations recently, I was amazed at the bizarre on ground implementation of these access features. The low drinking water sink was blocked and overflowing with water. The accessible restroom was located in the ladies waiting room making me wonder where a disabled man was supposed to go.  As for the condition of the special waiting room the lesser said the better.

crossing over tracks

In this entire thread of thought while making stations more disabled friendly there is no concern for the safety of disabled passengers. The basic issue of inter-platform transfer seems to have been entirely ignored. For instance, whenever I’ve travelled by train, I have always been taken as luggage over the railway tracks by a coolie, putting me as a passenger at a higher risk of accidents than anybody else. What disheartens me most is when I often read in news papers that the Railways in its understanding is sanctioning money to install escalators in various stations for the benefit of disabled people while it’s a internationally recognised norm that people using wheelchairs are not allowed to use escalators. A rule followed by the Delhi Metro and the Airports in India but happily ignored by the Railways. This again is an indication towards poor safety concern for the disabled.

The anxiety of travel does not subside even after reaching the platform well in time to board the train. The coolies that was hired to bring me over the tracks till the platform was engaged on the condition that he was going to board me in the train and leave me on my berth. Of course the cost of this is high therefore as a disabled traveller while the railways was generous in its concessions but because of inaccessibility the added cost to hire two coolies to board and de-board me compensates for the concession availed.

Once the train arrived and the initial frenzy subsided two coolies lift me like a sack of potatoes (one grabbing me from under my shoulders and the other from under my knees) and carry me in. There is no point in my feeling awkward or angry at the way I am physically handled as there are no other options in any case.  Train is about 50 cm higher from the platform and carrying me up is difficult, but the real challenge is taking me in through the extra narrow and extra heavy door of the air-conditioned compartment. There is a jam caused my getting in blocking the way for the rest.  In between all the confusion that is created the coolies struggle to squeeze in in through the door. There are always a few scratches or red finger marks of the coolies hand that remain as a memory of this experience. I take a deep breath of relief as I settle on my berth finally. One third of the journey is completed for me at that moment.

As the train rolls forward I stay happily perched on my berth enjoying the scenery outside as feeling bad about the way I am treated as a disabled person is of no use as in so many years of being disabled I have reconciled to this differential treatment, it is not something specific only to the railways in any case. My berth was my spot for the next two days as I am going to be able to get down for some fresh air at any of the stations neither was I going to be able to access the sink or the toilet. With a restricted intake there was nothing more that I could do to avert something as natural as natures call. All I hoped for now was for an eventless journey.

As the train jolted to a halt at the Puttaparti Station where the stop was just for a couple of minutes, my father was already at the compartment door trying to hail to coolies to help us out. He had already spoken to the ticket conductor explaining him our problem in de-boarding the train and requesting him to ensure that the train didn’t move ahead without letting us off. The TC assured him and told him not to worry and get of comfortably. In spite of hurrying frantically to expedite our de-boarding, the train jolted ahead with me in the hands of two coolies with one of them on the platform and the other still in the train. I thought this was the end of me but my father ran forward and grab me and put me on the platform. From the moving train the coolies unloaded my wheelchair and other luggage, it was clear that the TC had not bothered to ensure my safety as he had promised to.

This was a journey that is etched in my mind forever. Today as I have become older and broader physically I know that there is no way I can make a train journey ever again. The only mode of travel available to me is to travel by air. Since it is not something that is very affordable to me I am very restricted in my travel not able to take as may holidays I would like to.  I am discriminated and excluded because of only one reason and that reason is ‘inaccessibility’. As a disabled person only the more expensive services are accessible to me such as air travel instead of rail travel, using taxis instead of public transport, five star hotels instead of cheaper guest houses. It is as though I am being charged a tax for being disabled!

The concession provided by the railways is useless unless they provide accessibility and providing accessibility is not rocket science, it only required that the railways consider inclusion, safety and comfort of disabled travellers as one of their main objectives and then work towards it in a phased and an inclusive manner. It is not charity that a disabled person needs in the form of concessions rather we want inclusion and the right to use the service with the same dignity and convenience as anybody else.  

Shivani Gupta

From AccessAbility -

Monday, 20 February 2012

TAI Parternship Offer

Dear Friend,

I invite you to partner with Travel Another India in setting up Responsible Tourism Ventures across India.

Simply put, a Responsible Tourism Venture is one which ensures maximum benefit to the host community while having a minimum impact on the environment.

Travel Another India was registered as a Private Limited Company in April 2009. My experience with the Hodka Rural Tourism Project led to the forming of the company. Currently we offer a holiday package designed for guests using wheelchairs in Ladakh called Himalaya on Wheels and a stay in the village of Pranpur, Madhya Pradesh where guests have a choice of weaving, pottery or metalcraft to choose from and the rich cultural and natural heritage of the area to enjoy. We are in discussions with interested host communities and have plans to add several new destinations in the coming months.

You could choose to:
Ø  donate funds for which you will be eligible for a tax deduction,
Ø  or you could choose to invest in a specific venture. The return for each venture would vary based on a number of factors including location, weather conditions and commitment levels of the stakeholders.

At the Destination, we work with reputed NGOs to set up Responsible Tourism Ventures. Your donation or investment into a Destination will typically go into setting up a guest house, creating the experience for the guest, training the local team, marketing, meeting working capital needs and ensuring that it remains a Responsible Tourism venture. We will keep you informed as new ventures come up.

Your donation or investment into Travel Another India will help put together the team that supports the destinations and ensures that they offer the right experience to guests while earning a reasonable income for the hosts.

Else you could allow us to choose where to deploy your donation or investment.

Our next destination

Currently we are looking for investments into a guest house that we are setting up jointly with The Banyan at Kovalam, 30 km outside Chennai.

Here is a 4-minute video that explains Travel Another India as well as the venture with The Banyan. Click here...

The Banyan is a voluntary organization that reaches out to women with a mental illness and supports them to a fulfilling life beyond. They have a protected community in Kovalam or Covelong, about 30 km south of Chennai in Tamil Nadu.

Here, about 60 women are provided shelter and all support in continuing their lives. These are women who have been treated or continue to be treated for mental illness and whose families do not want them back. They are trained to look after their daily life needs and also to maintain the campus in which they stay.

The Banyan set up a guesthouse with four rooms in 2009, to encourage guests to visit and stay with the community and better understand mental health issues. The guesthouse was named 1498, after the year in which Vasco Da Gama first landed on the West Coast of India in his quest for spices. A shop was attached to the guesthouse, which sold products made by the women who live in or have passed through The Banyan. However, the venture did not run for long as hospitality is not the core competence of The Banyan.

Travel Another India (TAI), a social enterprise that supports organisations and communities in developing Responsible Tourism Ventures in another India, approached The Banyan to offer support in re-opening the guesthouse.

This would involve renovating the four rooms available for the guest house, refurbishing the interiors, training the team, creating the experience for guests and then doing the marketing.

The financial benefits to the protected community are calculated to amount to Rs.10.26 lakhs as salaries and Rs.5.25 lakhs as rent over a period of 5 years.

The total amount of investment needed for the venture is Rs.10 lakhs. Of this Rs.6.31 lakhs will be for the renovation and refurbishment of the guest house. Rs.3.69 lakhs will be used as working capital over the first two years primarily to cover salaries and training costs.

A detailed Business Plan is available and can be shared with you on request.

Some pictures of 1498, before the needed renovation and refurbishment:

  1The entrance to the rooms
2 The driveway to the Guest House
3 An overview of the campus ->


If you would like to donate money toward this venture, you could do so directly to The Banyan. Those making a donation greater than Rs.10,000 will receive a half-yearly update on how the Guest House is faring along with the financial report. All donations are 100% tax exempt under Section 35 AC of the Income Tax Act of 1961.

If you would like to invest, TAI will accept amounts equal to or greater than `50,000/- (Rupees Fifty thousand only) from each individual.

Your investment will be tentatively[1] treated as preferred capital. You can choose to withdraw your funds in 2018 or in 2021 as per the current plan. Your maximum return could be:
Invested Amount
In 2018
In 2021
Annualised Return

This is subject to market risks.

The sole owner of the Guest House will continue to remain The Banyan.

In addition, you will get a 20% discount for 15 nights for one room in 2012, 2013 and 2014. And for 8 nights for a room for the remaining period of your investment at the Guest House.

By April 2013, a separate legal entity will be set up for the Guest House and all funds will be transferred to its account. The Governing Body will have representatives from The Banyan, TAI and all investors. The nature of this entity will be finalised over the next six months and communicated with all investors.

If you have any questions, suggestions or comments, please do write to me.

Thank you.
With Regards

+91 9940 559 513

Payment Details

The Banyan

The Banyan is legally registered as a Trust.

Online payment can be made at
Cheques or Demand Drafts favouring 'The Banyan' and with “Kovalam Guest House” written behind can be made payable in Chennai and sent to:
The Banyan,
6th Main Road,  Mogapair Eri Scheme, Mogapair West,
Chennai - 600 037, India

Bank transfers can be made through ICICI Bank. Please follow all payments with an email to with the details so that the amount can be attributed to the Guest House.
Anna Nagar Branch
A78, Plot No 3211
3rd Avenue, Anna Nagar
Chennai - 600 102
Tamil Nadu, India

91-44-2626 2334
Corpus A/C No: 602701202072
Recurring Costs A/C No: 602701209343

Travel Another India

Travel Another India is legally registered as a private limited company under the name TAI Responsible Tourism Consultants Private Limited. The two Directors are Ms kv Gouthami and Ms K Ramalakshmi.

Name: TAI Responsible Tourism Consultants PLTD
Branch: Anna Nagar Main, Chennai
A/C No.: 00 172 0000 32510
Type: Current
IFSC: HDFC0000017

Cheques or Demand Drafts favouring the name above, payable at Chennai, may be sent to:
Ms Gouthami
Travel Another India
AB 50, Anna Nagar, Chennai – 600 040, India

[1] The exact nature of capital will be defined based on the legal status of the entity by April 2013.