Virali Modi is a name that has been doing the rounds on social media after change.org petition went viral. The motivational speaker and disability rights advocate spoke about how she was manhandled and groped while traveling in India. We urged you to sign her petition yesterday; today we got in touch with her to learn more about what propelled her to start her petition. Excerpts:
Can you explain the incident in detail?
We were at Mumbai Central, got to the ramp and came to the platform. We thought there might be some kind of lift to get in to the train, as it is usually the case in the US, but there was nothing here. My mom then called the porters for help. They were quite apprehensive and they weren’t sure what to do. They were discussing among themselves how they could lift me and stared at me as I were a piece of meat.
Finally, they started with the process of getting me into the train. One grabbed me from underneath my knees while the other person put his hands underneath my armpits. While getting into the train, one guy made me sit on his lap and the other one put his hands around my breast instead of my armpits. The next thing I know is that his hands started roaming and started making repetitive movements. At first I thought it was a mistake, but then he kept repeating it.
As we entered the coach, people kept staring and they could clearly see what the guy was doing. But to my surprise, none of them said anything! I was ashamed, not for myself, but because no one raised their voice. I was ashamed because the government had not kept any facilities for the disabled.
How often have you faced these issues in India?
I have been, raised in the US and I first came to India in 2008. Since then I’ve been living in Mumbai.
The first incident happened in 2008 – the very next day after I landed in Mumbai, while I was on my way to Delhi and was about to board the Rajhdhani. The second time was 2011, and then again in 2014.
Why did you not raise your voice back then? Why wait until now?
I did not say anything back then because I felt that the government wasn’t listening then. I didn’t want to come in to the media because it was only me and my mom living in Mumbai and did not know what two women in a new city would have to face. My dad stays in thr US and supports me financially but it isn’t possible for him to be here all the time.
Why start a petition now?
There are many people going through the same and I feel that thousands of people are getting affected by it. I now feel that the government is listening. Narendra Modi has taken the initiative to acknowledge the minority. I want to help people and the government achieve ‘Accessible India’. Accessible in the sense that everyone would have equal opportunity to avail the facilities and services provided for the people of the country without having to rely on anyone’s help. For example; something as simple as boarding a train, I want to be a part when the planning and implementation for the same happens because the planners need to know about it from the point of view of someone who is disabled, someone who is going to use it.
I believe that there should be a ‘Sensitisation Society’ which educates people about the disabled and their special needs. I want people to not sympathize, but empathize. People need to be more empathetic and understand the needs of the disabled.
Did you try reaching out to anyone before starting with the petition?
Yes, I did. I sent across a mail to PM of India office but my mail was forwarded to the Department of External Affairs and the case was closed.
Here is a screenshot of the same:
Suresh Prabhu, the Minister of Railways, has recently replied to this issue saying, “Have taken note.Already w’king on making our stations,trains Divyang friendly,hv made significant progress,lot is 2 be done.Any idea welcome”
Have taken note.Already w'king on making our stations,trains Divyang friendly,hv made significant progress,lot is 2 be done.Any idea welcome https://t.co/Gg8BQYFm1w
— Suresh Prabhu (@sureshpprabhu) February 9, 2017
We can now only wait and watch what happens. In the meantime, show your support by signing Virali’s petition.