Undaunted by their disability

While I am not an admirer of little girls being made to walk the ramp, or sing and dance in television competitions, a news item of 9-year-old Daisy-May Demetre, a physically-challenged girl from Birmingham, walking the ramp in Paris caught the eye. This because she was endorsing a French luxury brand for children in the fashion capital of the world, boldly displaying her two prosthetic lower limbs. Daisy was born with a disability that caused part of the bone missing in both her lower legs. Her legs had to be amputated when she was only 18 months old and she learnt to walk with prosthetic legs. This was her third catwalk, the earlier two being at fashion shows in New York and London.

That the fashion world is inclusive of a ramp walk on prosthetic limbs cheered the heart. But then came this nasty piece of news at home that disability rights activist and polio survivor Kuhu Das was asked by the security personnel at the Kolkata airport to remove her trousers as she said she could not remove her calipers without removing her trousers. Of course, the activist, who has widely travelled around the world and was going to Delhi to participate in a UN conference, was allowed to go after she protested.

To add insult to injury, her colleague Jeeja Ghosh, who has cerebral palsy, and was on a wheelchair, was first told by the airline that she couldn’t fly without an escort. Both women, ironically, were going to participate in a conference to defend the rights of disabled women!

Naturally, there was a furore in both traditional and social media and the Kolkata Airport Authority has apologised to both the women. Talking to the media, Kuhu said this wasn’t unusual at Indian airports, as most often she was asked to remove her calipers, something that doesn’t happen to her in other countries. When a friend first posted the incident on a social media, I commented on how insensitive, inhuman and shocking this was… that our security personnel at airports should be so insensitive to the rights and sensitivity of our disabled population. Pat came a response that this is necessary in the interest of avoiding terror attacks. Well, of course security should be rigid and ensure all air travellers’ safety but surely there is a way of doing this without humiliating disabled persons.

How brave these women are, and how they have responded to the challenges posed by their disability, can be seen from the fact that Jeeja, who did her Masters in disability from the Leeds University, UK, is reportedly the first woman in India with cerebral palsy to adopt a child. Kuhu, who got polio at the age of three, is the secretary of the Disability Activists Forum. Both the women, as thousands across India, who have put their handicap behind them and have taken on the challenge of fighting for the rights of the disabled… the right to education, employment, access and housing, and above all, the right to a life of dignity, deserve not only our salute but our active support. Telling Rotarians about the adverse effects of polio is like carrying coal to Newcastle, but such incidents put the onus on us to fight more vigorously for the rights, and dignity, of the disabled.


Rasheeda Bhagat

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Message Us