“Time to leave our houses and fight for our rights”
Krishna Gautam is a Past-President of the Mid-Western Chapter of ‘National Federation of the Disabled Nepal’ (NFDN) and founder member of ‘Centre for Independent Living’ (CIL) in Kathmandu. Presently, he works with the CIL as the General Secretary. He lives with his wife and two children in Kathmandu.
In this interview with CBM’s Ashok Shah, Krishna Gautam talks about his experience during the earthquake on 25th April and the work CIL plans to do in the aftermath for the rights of people with disabilities.
When did you start CIL? What’s the idea behind starting this organization?
“We started CIL in Kathmandu in 2006. We were a group of ten people with disabilities who believed it’s important to work with rights-based approach in disability sector. Earlier, whatever we did mostly centred around charity based approach… What CIL wants is that the disability movement must be led by people with severe and profound disabilities; and their issues must be addressed and resolved by persons with severe disabilities themselves. That’s the reason we started CIL.”
Where were you during the 25th April earthquake? What did you experience on that fateful day?
“I was in Nepalgunj [a town about 500km west of Kathmandu]… I was invited at a friend’s place for lunch. At the entrance, two persons carried my wheelchair and helped me get inside the house. After lunch, we were just watching TV and talking to each other when the ground began to shake, making such a terrible noise. Before I could make sense of what was happening, the hosts had left the house and reached the garden outside…
The ground continued to shake and I thought I’ll fall off the wheelchair. Later, the hosts came back and helped me get out of the house. The earth was shaking even when we reached outside. It was such a horrifying experience. Luckily, it was a single-storey house…”
When did you return to Kathmandu? How difficult was it to reach the capital after the quake?
“Actually, I was to take a flight back to capital that Saturday evening. But due to the earthquake, all flights were cancelled. Even telephone connections were down. An hour later, I could finally speak to my family in Kathmandu and got to know that my daughter was slightly injured… Later, I somehow boarded an overnight bus from Nepalgunj to Kathmandu to be with my family. On 26 th April, I could finally meet my wife and children. But a few hours later there was another massive aftershock. I was so worried about my family…”
What are you doing for fellow persons with disabilities who are affected by the earthquake?
“For the first few days, we were so scared that we could not leave our families. The aftershocks kept coming and we couldn’t do anything at all. Meanwhile, we have been calling our Disabled Person’s Organisations (DPOs) in the affected districts to know about the damage caused to persons with disabilities. Also, we have set up some tents in an open ground in Jawalakhel as temporary shelter for people with severe disabilities whose shelters have collapsed and have nowhere to go. At the moment there are about 15 persons in the tents here, most of them wheelchair user and severe spinal conditions. We are expecting some more persons with severe disabilities from worst hit districts like Kavre and Sindhupalchowk. They can stay here up to 3 months, or till the time they have no other alternative… In the coming days, we’re also trying to provide peer counseling and assistive devices in this shelter.”
Tomorrow, you’re going to attend the Protection cluster meeting. How do you plan to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities?
“I believe, persons with disabilities are the first casualties during the earthquake. They are also most likely to be left behind and forgotten during the immediate rescue and relief work. So, we’re planning to organize as many persons with disabilities and attend the cluster meeting tomorrow. We’ll put forward that access to relief supplies and temporary shelter must be inclusive of persons with disabilities. For that I think we need to organize, make our presence felt in such meetings, only then our voices will be heard. Most importantly, we’re going to advocate that the earthquake will result in many more people with injuries and disabilities who will need to be looked at seriously. The government needs to look into the issues of their recovery and rehabilitation, and later the issue of employment as well.”
Why do you think disability issues needs to be advocated in such cluster meetings? Why is disability forgotten?
I think that’s because we haven’t been able to raise our issues effectively, or mainstream our issues at the national level. The reasons for this could be that we aren’t yet organized among ourselves, we lack coordination and we’re yet to demonstrate our strength and impact as a group and community. We are still inside our houses. Time has come that we leave our houses and fight for our rights.”