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'No Choice of Social Distancing': How India's Lockdown is Affecting the Differently-Abled

Virali Modi/Nipul Malhotra.

Virali Modi/Nipul Malhotra.

For people with disabilities who require caregivers, the problem of contact remains, they can't choose to social distance.

Late on Tuesday evening, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation and announced a 21-day lockdown to combat coronavirus transmission. "Social distancing applies to everyone, including your prime minister. Social distancing is the only option to combat coronavirus," PM Modi said.

In Delhi, Nipun Malhotra knew he didn't have much choice. "I'm completely dependent on my care-taker. He has to pick me up physically. I don't have the choice of social distancing," said Malhotra, CEO of the Nipman Foundation, an organisation that works with persons with disabilities.

Nipun's caregiver doesn't live in his house. So, every day he has to commute to get to his house.

Amid the lockdown, it hasn't been particularly easy for citizens to commute. While the PM had announced that essential services will be available, online grocery delivery services like Big Basket, Grofers and Amazon have been forced to cancel many orders over the past few days due to shortage of supply and on account of the police misinterpreting the lockdown as a total curfew. The online grocery retailers said the police were not allowing delivery agents to fulfil orders in many localities.

"The police, however, have been helpful in letting my caregivers come," said Malhotra. "This is one of the moments when the police has risen to the duty, contacted me and given my caretakers a curfew pass."

Malhotra pointed out that the problem of contact is not limited to just persons with disabilities. "Even the elderly need care," he said. He said that anyone who needs a caregiver does not have the option of social distancing. And therefore, there's always the chance of being infected.

A lot of the problem lies in India's treatment of the differently-abled, and there's not enough data. The World Health organization says that 15% of the world's population lives with some form of disability, but Indian census data barely registers it. "So the onus is on us, to reach out to the DCPs and request for help," explains Malhotra. "But that's a battle to be fought later," he said. "Right now, Coronavirus is enough."

Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday announced an ex-gratia of Rs 1,000 in two installments over the next three months for persons with disabilities.

"It's not easy for people who are not employed with big organizations or corporations to be surviving this lockdown," explains Virali Modi, who is a motivational sspeaker, disability rights activist, and freelance model. "Because you don't know where your next source of income to pay for the rent, the food, the caregivers will even come from."

Modi has had a curfew pass issued for her driver after she asked for help on Twitter, and police immediately responded. "It's very nice to see that police and officials are looking out for us," she adds.

But for her, her primary problem isn't the requirement to go outside and buy things, it's the daily tasks. "I live alone and my caretaker would do the little things which other people overlook. I'm in a wheelchair. A lot of things are not possible to do without help," she explained.