Over a decade ago, Virali Modi was in an accident that left her in a coma. When she woke up, she was paralyzed from the waist down, leaving her bound to a wheelchair.
She has since embraced her disability as part of her life. In 2014, she won second place in the Miss Wheelchair India pageant, a title that she told the India Times helped her gain more self-confidence. She is also now a motivational speaker and writer as well as an activist for the disabled.
“I’ve started to bring about disability through my writing, because there isn’t much awareness in India, unfortunately,” she said.
Modi’s latest campaign is to make public transportation in India more easily accessible for people with disabilities, something she has personally struggled with. Because Modi cannot make it up the few steps between the platform and the train, she must be lifted out of her wheelchair by two porters and brought into the train car. Her wheelchair is then pulled on after her.
The process is more than just cumbersome, though. It is also dangerous for disabled people like Modi, who has been sexually assaulted by porters helping her onto the train on three separate occasions.
“He wrapped his arms around my chest and started feeling me up,” she said, describing one incident to the BBC. “Right then, I felt like I was worthless. I felt that the population of those with disabilities in India, they don’t have a voice and they are worthless.”
Modi felt the only way to change this was to improve India’s transportation system and make it more disability-friendly. She created a campaign with the hashtag “MyTrainToo” to bring light to the situation.
Ten months ago, she also created a petition that calls for discussions with both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu about how to improve the situation. She also calls for more easily accessible and usable bathrooms and a way for the disabled to cross to different platforms if needed.
“The railways treat the disabled as a piece of luggage,” she wrote. “This needs to stop!”
The petition is still active and currently has over 209,000 signatures. In February, just a few short weeks after the petition was first posted online, it caught the attention of at least one government official.
Maneka Gandhi, the Union Minister for Women and Child Development, saw the petition when it was at just 95,000 signatures, the Logical Indian reported. She then requested that the railway minister make train travel more accessible for the disabled on a “mission mode.” The railway minister then posted a tweet, saying that there were already plans in the works toward better accessibility on public transportation.
For Modi, however, the fight still persists since there have been few concrete changes.
“That isn’t enough though, until trains aren’t disabled friendly, my fight won’t end,” she wrote in an update to her petition. “What happened to me, should not happen to anyone else.”
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