court ruling

How Delhi High Court empowered the disabled by staying government plan to buy high-floor buses

In its June 1 ruling, the court also accused the state of ‘treating the disabled as non-existent or as not having any rights’.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a resident of Montgomery, Alabama, in the United States, got on a bus to head home from work. As per the legal seating arrangement then, she went to the back of the bus where black passengers were supposed to be seated. In what was popular practice then, black passengers were also supposed to give up their seats if the white section was filled up. On that day, the driver asked her to give up her seat for a white man, but she refused. She was then humiliated, abused and arrested. This incident ignited protests and boycotts all over the country, the bus company took a financial hit, the authorities made numerous arrests. A year later, the Supreme Court declared segregation illegal in Montgomery. By this time, Martin Luther King Jr had become a household name. The civil rights movement had got just the spark it needed. In the following decade, the American government would pass the historic Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Finally, African Americans had political equality.

In September 2017, the Delhi cabinet approved a proposal to procure 2,000 standard-floor buses to strengthen the city’s public transportation. With buses having a life of 15 years, this decision would mean the complete exclusion of persons with disabilities and the elderly from public transport.

I, along with other representatives of the disabled community, wrote to the Delhi government about our concerns and pleaded that they procure the more accessible low-floor buses. When I received no response, I was forced to challenge the government’s decision along with my lawyer, Jai Dehadrai, in the Delhi High Court by filing a public interest litigation. Our case was bolstered by Pretti Singh, who highlighted the challenges women face when public transport is inaccessible.

We were shocked to learn at the first court hearing that the Delhi government had decided to challenge my PIL and make proceedings adversarial. Shock would turn to sadness as the government, at hearing after hearing, came up with flimsy excuses for its decision – such as claims that the “Accessible India” campaign says that at least 10% of a state’s public transport fleet should be accessible (when did “at least” become an upper cap?), the safety of standard-floor buses (the Delhi government had in 2007 told the same court that low-floor buses are safer because of lower driver seats and a wider front screen), poor quality of roads and lack of manufacturers of low-floor buses (Tata and Ashok Leyland would later file affidavits in court refuting this claim). Earlier this year, the Delhi government tried to pull another rabbit out of the hat by attempting to procure standard-floor buses under the “cluster scheme”, where they would be owned by private operators and leased out to the government.

The High Court order

On June 1 this year, the Delhi High Court bench led by Chief Justice Gita Mittal delivered a historic interim judgement that stayed the procurement of the inaccessible standard-floor buses. The court questioned the 10% rationale, wondering if “their [the disabled’s] entire schedules are to be governed by the schedule of the 10% accessible public transport which the DTC [Delhi Transport Corporation] and the respondents are willing to provide”. It declared “that the respondents are bent upon treating the disabled as non-existent, or, in any case not having any rights”.

This is, in many ways, a landmark judgement, perhaps one with the biggest ramifications since the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, came into force. As case law, it will set a precedent for accessible transportation for all states and the Centre.

More importantly, this public interest litigation and the Delhi High Court will set a precedent for activists to use the judiciary in taking up causes and for courts in interpreting the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act. The legislation is definitely a step forward but has many loopholes that need to be filled. For example, it speaks against discrimination on the grounds of disability “unless it is shown that the impugned act or omission is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. In another chapter, it mandates establishments to have an equal opportunity policy and maintenance of records to support it, but stays silent on violations of the same.

Away from the day-to-day bickering that keeps the majority of Indian parliamentarians busy, courts have often led the way in how human rights cases are considered in India. After all, even women did not have any legal protection in the workplace till as late as 1997 when the Supreme Court, while hearing “Vishaka versus State of Rajasthan”, laid down rules on how institutions should prevent and redress cases of sexual harassment in the workplace. These rules, called the Vishaka Guidelines, still stand today.

The father of the Indian Constitution, BR Ambedkar, once said:

“Democracy is not merely a form of government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellow men.”

Thank you, Delhi High Court, for reminding us that courts can empower the disabled when governments fail us.

Nipun Malhotra, a wheelchair user, is founder, Wheels For Life (www.wheelsforlife.in), and CEO, Nipman Foundation. His Twitter handle is @nipunmalhotra

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.