Public safety in general should be a top priority everywhere but I can’t understand why it seems to be getting less attention in Bhutan. When I was in Australia, I realized that they displayed public warning notice even while carrying out a minor construction or maintenance works. If they do not do that and if somebody meets with an accident, they can be legally sued for their negligence. A friend of mine told me that even for the benefit of people with visual impairment, they are required to guard the risky area with either rope or a fence. But in Bhutan, I feel such developments are very rare, if not non-existent.
About two months ago, I was going to the town with my Chief to collect some bills when the car we were driving nearly slipped off into the pit dug right in the middle of the road near the Milk-booth near Hongkong market in Thimphu. A huge pit was dug cutting the entire road for some maintenance works but there was no public notice cautioning people and drivers. If we were driving at night or if we were speeding, we would have certainly fallen into the pit. But fortunately, our driver could see the pit from the safe distance so that he could stop the car on time and turned back to another route. I think issues like this are common in Bhutan. Even within my office premises, some construction works are going on and drains are being made, but as usual, the public safety measures are not in place especially for visually impaired people like me.
But I feel these are not new issues. Even when I was in Khaling, we met with several accidents due to the negligence of the concerned people but luckily, none of them was fatal. In 1995 when I was studying in grade 7 in Jigme Sherubling High School, I and my friend even fell into a septic-tank while going to my classroom. We were late to school and hence, we didn’t have any sighted friend to guide us. My senior friend who claimed he knew the location of my classroom volunteered to help me because I was new to the campus. But as we were walking towards my classroom, we suddenly fell of into the septic-tank which was not even covered or fenced despite the knowledge that so many visually impaired persons were studying in the school. Fortunately, the tank was empty at that time and we fell off in an upright position just as we were walking. If we had fallen upside down, I think we would have either died or suffered from serious head injuries. My friend managed to crawl up on his own while I remained inside the tank until some people rushed to the scene and rescued me. Only then, the school authorities began to construct a fence around the tank.
Likewise, we have bridges and staircases without railing, large windows without safety rods and many others that pose so much danger. Some years ago, there was a story in Kuensel about a couple whose child fell off a large window in a hotel in Phuntsholing which did not have safety rods and the worst part was that it was covered by curtains. . Our traditional houses usually have large windows and that too without safety rods. There was also a story about a child and her father who fell and drowned in the septic tank in Phuntsholing while going to feed the fish on the other side of the tank. Why the septic tank was not fenced if it was seen as a danger? Similarly, some people also died in the public septic tank at Babesa in Thimphu when there was no proper fence around the area. The sad thing is that Bhutanese people seem to act only if some lives are lost and when it happens, it becomes too late. I am just wondering why do we have to always wait for somebody to die before we act. Public safety is extremely important for a happy and prosperous society. I feel it’s not right to always shift the blame on the victims as we do today rather than taking moral responsibility for the unfortunate incidents. It is our responsibility to make our environment safe and conducive for all its inhabitants including persons with disabilities. I hope things will change for the good with more number of educated and civilized people coming up in the society.