Disability campaigner completes 370km Wheelchair Expedition across the Himalayas
Ram Bahadur-Tamang, a wheelchair user and disability rights campaigner, has almost completed a 370km spiritual expedition across Nepal to raise awareness on the lack of rights afforded to disabled people in Nepal.
Some people might be feeling a bit sorry for themselves after the London Marathon; suffering the odd blister and calf strain, well Ram Bahadur-Tamang certainly puts all of that into perspective with his 370km marathon across Nepal.
In addition to generating public awareness on spinal cord injury (SCI), he also hopes to meet and motivate others like him on the way, and raise much needed funds for poor patients to access rehabilitation services at the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC), Livability’s partner organisation in Nepal.
Ram suffered a spinal injury 3 years ago when he was 28 years old which forced him to use a wheelchair. He is now 31 and is a vocational trainer with the SIRC where he is responsible for training patients and their carers to produce high quality handicrafts and jewellery. Alongside his employment he has campaigned hard to raise awareness of SCI in Nepal and for the government to improve the support which they provide to disabled people.
Attitudes and policy in Nepal
Attitudes towards disability in Nepal are not very advanced, and public policy follows this trend. Maggie Muldoon, Overseas Programme Manager, says ‘People in Nepal are not entirely open minded about disabled people. There is little sympathy for the impact on the life of the disabled person, and many feel that life is over for a person when they are confined to a wheelchair. People in Nepal are generally not used to seeing wheelchairs at all and assume, just because someone is physically disabled, that they are not capable of partaking in everyday life.’
Disability policy in Nepal is very much in line with these popular beliefs. Although it is improving there is still little in the way of formal disability policy. A Bill is currently being passed through Parliament but given the constant flux and unpredictability of the Constituent Assembly, it is unlikely to become law. People with disabilities can apply to be assessed as to their level of disability and will receive a severity ranking of either red, blue, yellow or white. Currently the red card holders are entitled for Rs. 1,000 (£6) per month in lieu of income, and their carer would get Rs.5,000 (£30) per month.
Maggie Muldoon again, ‘The intention is that all card holders will get some kind of financial support too but when that will happen is unknown. The only other policy known is for government jobs where they try to hire disabled people for up to 5% of their staff, but again it’s unclear how that is monitored but it is a start.’
Another significant problem is the postcode lottery many people face in Nepal. You are, for example, far more likely to receive assistance if you live close to the capital Kathmandu, and less likely to if you live in rural areas. The main reason for this is lack of infrastructure, poor communication channels and inaccessibility.
As regards accessibility, the government are not obliged to provide transport assistance to disabled people and it is difficult to encourage the privately-run buses to cater for those in wheelchairs. This means that many disabled people are left unable to travel on public transport without ramps on buses and taxis are generally far too small. This in turn limits the capabilities of a disabled person and perpetuates the myth that they are restricted in their disability as they cannot get out of their village or around their city. This is a particularly severe issue in a mountainous country like Nepal where there are considerable inclines on the roads and paths. Even within a city the streets are often lined with cobbled stairs to deal with the many hills, and it is quite difficult to think how a person in a wheelchair might consider negotiating their way through some of them.
Ram tells a powerful story of how he himself has been victim of neglect in Nepalese society: ‘When I used to wait for the public bus to go home, I was always denied the ride for being a paraplegic in a wheelchair. Ironically, I could see people lifting potato bags weighing over 100 pounds; but they refused to carry my half-paralysed body and wheelchair, both weighing less than half a potato bag! This got me thinking for a couple of weeks and I decided that the voices of the spinally injured people must be heard.
‘If we remain confined within a room, society will never acknowledge our presence, so we must go out and show the world what we are capable of. Only then will we be able to make a difference. I aim to do the same with my Wheelchair Expedition. We have all been advocating for accessibility and disability rights, but merely speaking up has not seemed to make a significant difference. I believe that my journey will remind and motivate policy makers to prioritise disability while legislating the upcoming constitution.’
In Hindu culture a Yaatra is a procession with strong spiritual connotations. Often it is a way of achieving inner peace but can be used as a form of protest, and this is the case with Ram. He was angry with the way disabled people are treated in Nepal, and decided to up the ante on his campaign efforts by embarking on a 370km trek from Namo Buddha to Lumbini across Nepal on 23rd March. It is not only the massive distance which pose a challenge but the enormous inclines. Nepal sits right on top of the Himalayas, one of the most beautiful and formidable mountain ranges in the world, they are of course home to the famous Mt. Everest.
Ram has touched people’s hearts during this Yaatra. He has had regular supportive horn honking on the roads and even had a tearful man present him with a bouquet of flowers in admiration for his courage. He has also had a visit from the famous Nepali folk singer, Hari Yonzon, who heard about Ram’s story on the news and decided he had to visit him personally.
On route Ram has also met with other disabled people, some of whom are coping well and are employed as lecturers or teachers, such as Ramesh Chandra Pandey. Unfortunately however he has also met some people living with spinal injury who have never received rehabilitation services, and as a result are confined to their homes. Taj Bahadur Nepali, for example, has been confined to his bed at home in Dhumkibas village for the past 10 years.
Ram successfully completed his 366km wheelchair Yaatra on 18th April 2014, after 26 days. Click here for further information https://www.facebook.com/SpinalNepal
If you would like to support Ram in his endeavour to raise awareness and funds for poor patients to receive rehabilitation at SIRC please make a donation here https://secure.thebiggive.org.uk/projects/view/21201