Shruti Pushkarna: Hamstrung by Lockdown Restrictions? Imagine the Reality of the Disabled!

18 Jun,2020

Shruti PushkarnaBy Shruti Pushkarna


Past few days the media coverage is abuzz with actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide and the usual fallout discussions on mental well-being. According to a recent news report, around 300 Indians have killed themselves during the coronavirus lockdown. Uncertainty around the medical and economic scenario is shooting up anxiety levels.


A couple of weeks into the lockdown, I started witnessing social media posts on keeping the mind healthy, practising yoga (or any other form of exotic sounding exercise), eating healthy, taking breaks, frequent video calls to friends and family et cetera. As a natural response to being ‘locked up’, a host of solutions popped up (some free, some for a price) to adjust to these ‘abnormal’ times.


For the first time, a majority of the population has been ‘confined’ in their homes. Their freedom curtailed. Options and routines upended. The inability to carelessly step out for a meal, go shopping, catch a movie, workout in the gym or do anything outdoorsy has left them hamstrung.


Choices matter. A lot. The pandemic has made us realise this. But is everyone fortunate enough to choose?


The other day a friend asked me how my parents were coping with the situation. That got me thinking. My mother has stayed indoors for most of her life because of a chronic illness. Her limited mobility left her with very little choice to step outside on her own. But she is happy. She is well-adapted to her idea of normal. If anything there is an upside to the current situation because she now has family around 24×7. Faces and voices fill up an otherwise empty home.


What do the current restrictions mean for those stuck inside their homes for years because of a disability, an ailment, old age or any other dependency? As per Census 2011, persons with disabilities combined with the elderly constitute around 13 crore of the total population. The actual latest numbers would be significantly higher.


For most persons with disabilities, access to offices, schools, colleges, shopping malls, restaurants, cinema halls, places of worship (and all other public spaces mentioned in the recent government guidelines), has never been easy. Senior citizens find themselves struggling with stairs and other barriers. An unfriendly environment and apathy keeps them constrained to their familiar territories.


Obvious choices of education, employment and entertainment are not available to them. Spaces and activities we (able-bodied) take for granted are off-limits for them.


Do they develop any mental issues from this denial of movement or access? Have they accepted and adjusted to their reality? Do they experience depression and suicidal thoughts contained within the four walls?


As per news reports and medical studies, the lockdown period has led to a 20% increase in cases of mental illness. 82% of Indians are suffering from stress and hence the need for mental healthcare. We are struggling to sustain in just three months of confinement. The media is voicing people’s concerns of feeling trapped, restless and isolated. Why has the society remained indifferent to the mental struggles of the disabled, the elderly or the chronically ill?


If it’s ignorance then surely coronavirus has given us an opportunity to understand their perspective.  Imagine their reality and be more inclusive in our approach. There’s also a lesson in ‘acceptance’ to learn from those who have lived with limitations longer.


If a pandemic cannot enthuse any empathy in us, I wonder what will.


Shruti Pushkarna is a former journalist (part of the founding team of MxMIndia) who has moved full-time to the social sector. She heads operations of the New Delhi-based Score Foundation where she works as Director-Programmes & Communications. She writes for MxMIndia every other Thursday. Her views here are personal. She can be reached via Twitter at @shrutipushkarna


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