KATHMANDU, Dec 14: A large number of disabled people gathered at Ratna Park, in the heart of the capital on Thursday afternoon, some of them carrying tools like picks and shovels.
The disabled people started demolishing a step leading to Shanti Batika, a public park which stands next to Rani Pokhari. The police, who were already deployed there, tried to prevent them from demolishing the steps, which led to a minor clash.
A police officer asked the disabled people why they wanted to demolish the step. "We, like other people, also want to enter the park, but the step prevents us from going there," said Tika Devi Dahal, the general secretary of National Federation of the Disabled Nepal (NFDN). "It is our symbolic fight. We want to demolish all those physical structures that are not disabled-friendly."
Later, they organized a rally blocking vehicular movement at Ram Shah Path for some time. There, they painted the road with images of disabled people. "Many high-profile people including the prime minister go to their offices by this road," said Dahal. "But, they are unaware of our problems. We chose this road to draw their attention to our concerns."
What the disabled people did at Ratna Park and Ram Shah Path were parts of their two-week protest programs, which kicked off Thursday. NFDN, which is an umbrella organization of various associations of disabled people, has announced a series of protests for the next two weeks. "We will announce another phase of protest if the government does not heed our demand within two weeks," said Dahal.
The disabled people are up in arms at a time when the government is widening roads in the valley. "This is the right time to make all roads disabled friendly in the valley," said Dahal. "If the government does not develop separate lanes for our wheel-chairs during the ongoing road widening drive, the valley roads will never be disabled-friendly."
According to Dahal, NFDN had urged Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai to make the valley roads disabled-friendly last year when the road-widening drive began. The prime minister had assured them that he would address their demands. The disabled people also filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) at the Supreme Court (SC). Acting on the PIL, the SC two months ago instructed the government to make the roads disabled-friendly. The disabled people said the govenrment ignored the court order so they had to resort to protests.
Dhundi Raj Lamichhane, the president of Nepal Wheelchair Club said, "Disabled friendly roads are very important. It will help disabled people to overcome the odds."
"Today, there is no way for us to walk. The government has failed to respect our human rights," said Manoj Bohirawa, peace building coordinator at the NFDN. He further added, "Our protest programs are aimed at making the government aware of our problems."