Virali Modi has been a fighter ever since she met with a near-death accident a decade ago. She battled with death and bounced back to life beautifully and gracefully. She has been on wheelchair since then. Such incidents in life often leave a person scattered. But even after the heart-wrenching incident, there was no looking back for Virali, who came back to life with double strength and became an inspiration for many.
She turned out to be a motivational speaker, disability rights activist, a writer and a runner-up at the Miss Wheelchair India pageant in 2014.
But what is most unfortunate is the fact that the woman who is so strong and independent despite being dependent on wheelchair, once became helpless. She was groped and harassed by coolies in three separate incidents when she sought their help in order to board the train. She took help because the Indian railways are not disabled-friendly and are not wheelchairs accessible.
After all the humiliation she faced while travelling from Mumbai to New Delhi on Indian Railways for medical purposes, she is now trying to get Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu’s attention to fix this issue faced by the disabled in the country.
For this, she has started an online petition at change.org, and is getting tremendous support.
Sharing her ordeal with News Nation in an exclusive interview, she says, “Upon reaching the train station, where the ramps were broken and bumpy, I finally reached the platform from where I was to board my train. I kept looking around thinking that there would be a ramp to board the train, but there wasn't. My mom went and called two porters that were middle aged men. She asked them to carry me into the train for a fixed amount of money. The porters looked at me as if I was a piece of meat. I was looked up and down a couple of times, before they decided who would carry me by my upper body and lower body.”
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She went on to add, “One porter was holding me from my knees while the other had his arms underneath my armpits and his hands placed underneath my breasts. While boarding the compartment, his hands started to roam. At first, I thought it was by accident, but his repetitive movements confirmed my doubts that I was being groped and molested by a man who was my father’s age.”
“I felt shame and embarrassment because other passengers were watching as I was being groped, but they failed to utter a single word. They were staring and there were whispers about me being a helpless girl, because I was only 17 at that time. I felt shame because I truly was helpless at that point, I let the porter grope me because I was scared to fall. I was scared that he’d drop me if I said anything. The lack of a lift or ramp was the reason I was sexually assaulted. The worst part is that this has happened three separate times,” said Virali.
“This has happened between the years 2008-2014. I've been scared, nervous, and embarrassed to travel in trains because like any other woman, I do not like being manhandled by grown men. It's a shame that this happens in our day and age,” she added.
On asking if PM Modi's 'divyang' term for persons with disability has brought any change, she said, “I do not believe in the term Divyang. I consider this terminology to be hypocritical. Why? We celebrate World Disability Day, not World Differently-Abled, Physically Challenged, or Divyang Day. These terms do not affect me because I don't consider myself to be disabled, I'm just as abled as the next person. I would rather not be categorized.”
“As for change, I don't really think there has been change, at least not in terms of society. The society is just as rude and horrendous to us as it was before the term Divyang came out. As for the government, it's great seeing them acknowledge those with disabilities. I cannot say it's because of the term Divyang,” she added.
She also shared about her work and efforts she has been making as a disability rights activist.
“I try to bring awareness about disability through my writing. I'm a prominent writer on Quora where I share my harrowing personal stories as well as stories of how I've been treated as a disabled woman. I'm also a writer with an NGO called Sexuality and Disability where I write about my personal experiences as a disabled woman. My main goal is to work with the government in providing accessibility to all in India. “
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu has taken note of her change.org petition. On asking whether she thinks some concrete action will be taken to make Indian Railways disabled-friendly, she said:
“I would like to hope so. The change.org petition has become viral, to say the least. People are constantly tweeting out to him to provide accessible trains and he finally responded after a week since the petition started. I would like to hope that the government will work tirelessly to implement facilities for those with disabilities. I will work tirelessly to make sure that it is implemented, with the power and support of the people and of course the media. “
On asking about her decision to start the "Implement disabled friendly measures in Indian railways" petition, she said:
She says unlike the previous government, the Narendra Modi government is at least making efforts to provide proper infrastructure for the welfare of the disabled.
“I have noticed that the previous government didn't really say much about disability. The Disability Rights Bill was present during their time as well, and nothing was done about it. This time though, the PM actively spoke to disability and has made an effort to provide proper infrastructure and is mostly working tirelessly to make this come true,” said Virali.
“The main thing is that the government is now listening, The Disability Rights Bill was passed, Arun Jaitley has confirmed that 500 stations will be made accessible. It's a start, but it isn't enough. It's high time that the government listened and stopped treating us like minorities. Which is why I started this petition now,“ she added.
Virali is fighting for the human dignity for the disabled and has demanded some basic things in Indian Railways in order to make it disabled-friendly. When asked whether the government will take note of it and implement those measures, she said:
“Like I said before, I would like to think that these measures would be implemented. But then, you never know. Sometimes other priorities arise and things are halted. That is why I want to work along side of the government to make sure these things are implemented. An able-bodied person shouldn't be allowed to decide what's right and wrong for me. I feel that a disabled person should be introducing ideas to them instead. Which is why I want to meet the PM and Mr Prabhu so I can share my ideas, because accessible India doesn't just stop at making trains accessible – there are many things that need to be done.”
Sign her petition HERE