"I want to pick up my life from where it stopped," says Prajith Jaipal, a native of Kerala's Kozhikode, speaking about a journey he is set to make in the days to come.
The 40-year-old quadriplegic man is set to begin a journey for himself and the welfare of the disabled community of Kerala, traversing through different states.
Come April 1, Prajith is going to drive to Delhi from Kozhikode, stopping by several cities in states including Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan, before reaching his destination, where he hopes to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi. April 1 marks the anniversary of the accident that left him quadriplegic, seven years ago.
Prajith was involved in a car accident on April 1, 2011, while he was driving from Thrissur to his home in Kozhikode, in the wee hours.
"I chose that day specifically because I wanted to pick up from where it all stopped. A lot of people suggested that I make the journey around September, when the weather is more favourable. But I was insistent that I wanted to start the journey on that day," Prajith narrates.
Through this journey covering nearly 2,500 kilometres, Prajith aims to provide motivation for disabled people to challenge and overcome their limitations.
Speaking to TNM about the trip, Prajith says that he wants to inspire the disabled and wheelchair users who confine themselves to the four walls of their home, to venture out.
"They should all lead a normal life, but many are worried. I believe that if one person changes, if one person makes the effort, the society will change. So I have decided to start with myself. I will be driving in my Celerio car, that has been altered for this purpose. What I also want the government to address is to consider increasing pension given to disabled people. It is now just Rs 1,000,” Prajith says.
Apart from this, Prajith also intents to meet and hold talks with corporate companies and NGOs, in order to convince the companies to hire wheelchair users. Public acceptance and employability, he points out, continues to evade wheelchair users.
At the time of the accident in 2011, Prajith used to work with a private telecom company as their zonal retail manager. Although he was bedridden for nearly two-and-a-half years following the mishap, he recovered enough to be able to use a wheelchair. However, Prajith soon realised that getting back to the same workplace was nearly impossible.
"My company was not convinced about me joining back. They doubted whether I would be able to work as I used to earlier. They even doubted whether I could work at all. But despite trying to convince them, they were not willing. In a way, I cannot blame the company, since there was not one employee who used a wheelchair. If they had at least one disabled employee, they would have been more receptive and accepting," Prajith explains.
He also realised that like his own company, the way in which other employers perceived disabled people was also not different. During the course of his journey, Prajith is scheduled to meet and hold talks with several companies, including two in Bengaluru.
"They have for now allowed me to hold a talk at the company. When I got in touch with companies to fix my schedule, I found that less than 1% of these companies currently employed disabled people. That shows a lot," Prajith says.
Representing the community
While the accident left him bedridden, Prajith says he never felt restricted from doing anything. The constant support from his family and friends ensured that he worked towards leading an active life.
Over the years, Prajith began an e-commerce firm with his brother-in-law and also ventured into farming, along with a close friend. Two years ago, he began a collective called Wheelers Club, that now has around 40 members from across Kerala.
"What I came to realise is that apart from employers not being open to hiring wheelchair users, our society is also not disabled friendly when it comes to the infrastructure. For instance, there is no facility to park wheelchairs anywhere. After approaching the Mayor and the district administration, a wheelchair parking lot is now coming up at the beach. The work will be over in a few months," Prajith states.
Goals, not one but many
Prajith also met the state Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday, to apprise him about the need for the government to start initiatives for a more inclusive society.
While Prajith aims to give visibility to issues ranging from inclusiveness at the workplace to acceptability in the society, his plans do not end there.
According to the schedule, Prajith is expected to be back in Kozhikode by June 15 and after this, he hopes to hold a job fair for disabled persons.