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Disability Sector gets star power with an unprecedented pitch for barrier-free India

In a nation where people worship Bollywood icons, getting the best that is there today to speak and perform in support of the ‘National Campaign for Barrier-Free India’ is a great feat for advocacy of the cause, says Parvinder Singh about Shah Rukh Khan’s 'Temptations 2005' held recently in New Delhi.

A picture of an item being presented by SRK, Rani and Priyanka

History was created in the National Capital this Christmas Eve, as a crowd of over 9,000 constituted the single largest gathering listening to the voice of disability sector for a barrier-free India.

The event also created an entertainment history as currently the greatest film personality of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan, took stage for ‘Temptations 2005’ -- along with Rani Mukerjee, Priyanka Chopra, Zayed Khan and Esha Deol-- thus marking King Khan’s first full-fledged show in his home city.

In a Nation where people worship Bollywood icons, getting the best that is there today to speak and perform in support of the ‘National Campaign for Barrier-Free India’ is a great feat for advocacy of any cause. And not only did the people present pay attention to the mention of disability made by Shah Rukh Khan several times during the three hour performance, but gave a standing ovation when Executive Director of National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (N.C.P.E.D.P.) Javed Abidi took stage and made a brief presentation on the need for mass support for disability rights in general and barrier-free India in particular.

For disabled people and those advocating their rights, the weeks ahead of the event were exciting as the word “disability” and “barrier-free” became a buzz and these began mushrooming in the newsprint of almost all leading news dailies, on news channels and websites.

At the very first Press Conference held in Mumbai to announce the details of the Concert, Shah Rukh Khan took shutterbugs and scribes by surprise with a focused approach on the issue of disability. He also briefed them about N.C.P.E.D.P.’s activities.

A picture of SRK and Javed Abidi

The modern-day icon of celluloid glamour did not let the issue get lost and told reporters that barrier-free environment is an important pre-requisite for mainstreaming disabled people. This was significant and the results were visible in the news coverage the following day. It was not any ordinary entertainment event; it had acquired the status of a platform for highlighting the concerns and aspirations of 70 million disabled people.

In the second Press Conference, held in Delhi barely 24-hours before the concert, Rani Mukerjee narrated how her critically acclaimed film ‘Black’ had led her to a more personalised exposure to the issue while training for the title role of a deaf-blind person. Abidi was present at these Press Conferences and presented disability perspective as well as his views as the organiser of the event.

A picture of Rani Mukerjee and Javed Abidi

At the event itself, after Abidi called for everyone's cooperation and support in making India barrier-free where there will be access for the disabled everywhere, we spoke to a teenager in the crowd wanting to know her views on disabled people and whether she was aware of the purpose behind holding the show.

“Yes, I know that it is being held to support disabled people. But I am surprised to know that there are 70 million disabled people and I hardly see them around in my school or at cinemas. It must be because it is difficult to move about,” said 17-year-old Swati.

We were in for more such insight into how this event and the issue of disability were perceived by those in the crowd.

“It was a good idea to rope in the stars for raising funds as Bollywood sells, but what this has also done is to make people aware of the existence of disability as it goes largely unnoticed because of their absence from the public life. My daughter is six-years-old and I would like her to be more aware about the needs of her disabled peers,” observed Harmit Shah Singh, who is an agency journalist for the past five years.

N.C.P.E.D.P. had launched a year-long National Campaign for a Barrier Free India to commemorate the Indian Independence Day on 15 August 2005 with Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit unveiling a logo and a blueprint for making a barrier-free India.

N.C.P.E.D.P.’s year-long campaign is focused on creating awareness and achieving changes at the policy level. The organisation has been advocating about the implementation of the agenda of access, in Building Bye-laws, Master Plans, Urban Renewal Plans, and Transport Policy etc. As a part of the campaign, Disability Audits would be conducted on new constructions and mass transportation systems.