Over the past few years, I have been writing about geographical matters to get you to look at geography beyond the classroom. Your textbook can only show you some important concepts in geography, but very little application. So, here’s a look at one.

Geographical rights

In your social studies classes, you have very likely studied about human rights. Many rights are also geographical rights. Particularly, Articles 13 – 15 are very explicitly include geographical rights (you can read all the Articles of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. That is at a broad, global scale (another geography concept: scale).

At a more local level, geographical rights include access to places – stationary places (e.g.: buildings) or mobile places (e.g.: public transport). In a myriad small ways, people with physical disabilities face discrimination.

At a bus stop, which in Bengaluru is not always a formally designed and designated spot, I waited for a bus one evening. At nearly 9 p.m., bus service was beginning to slow down. It rained very heavily. The road flooded. The ‘bus stop’ was in front of a row of shops. The flood on the road was most severe by the footpath (sidewalk). Among those waiting for a bus was a man who had to use a crutch to walk. By the time he could walk over from the sheltered shop to the bus to ask if the bus would go to Shivajinagar (no, the boards were absent or unreadable), the crowded bus would leave. This happened a few times. I tried to go ahead of the man to ask the driver. The flooding was hampering me, too and the result was the same.

Eventually, after much effort, the man was able to get into a bus and go on his way. An elderly man standing at the shop started shouting about how ‘these people’ should not go out of the house, they need to understand that when they go out they cause problems for others; why can’t they understand that and just stay at home?

I protested. This led to an argument and he nearly went apoplectic. At which time another bus arrived and I was able to get in and leave.

Alas, such attitudes are not uncommon.

However, things are surely improving. People and organizations are more sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities and their rights of access to places. I see this all around me. Particularly young people – such as you – always make it a point to help people out. Simple things that most of us can take for granted are difficult for people with disabilities – boarding a bus, going into a building (e.g.: banks, public toilets), crossing a busy street (far too many Bengaluru drivers don’t pay any attention to other’s needs, much less their rights), and so on.

Increasingly, public buildings are providing ramps to help people enter and exit. Our public transport system has a long way to go yet. In many western countries there are ‘elephant’ buses – these lower to make the entrance level with the ground so that even wheel-chair users can safely board the buses.

Read about the law and how it aims to protect and support people with disabilities in India: http://bit.ly/2qKMOC1

The Plank Man

Some years ago, I did a small case study about a man who had no legs and would get around on a 2 ft x 2 ft (61 cm x 61 cm) plank fitted with ball bearings. I invite you to read my blog on that.

At the end of that blog I raise three questions for you to answer. Do you have any other questions? Respond to it in the comment section of the blog. (You have to register at this site to be able to comment.) (Note: the organization ‘The Indian Institute of Geographical Studies’ is now called ‘The Institute of Geographical Studies’)

Citizen Geographers

If you have helped anyone who has a disability to access any kind of place, you have acted as a citizen geographer – you have helped them exercise their geographical right. If you have done this, I salute you. The world needs more such people. Studying geography in the textbook is not enough. Its application in the world around us to people is needed.

Join us for the International Geography Youth Summit – 2017, 7–9 July 2017, at Army Public School, K Kamaraj Road, Bangalore. Details at http://www.tigs.in

A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition in June 2017


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