In the time of COVID-19, when the world is grappling with both the pandemic and the virus of bigoted minds, a young man in India has shown how we can use our privilege by raising voices for the weak and the oppressed.
Yashveer Goyal has already established himself as a role model for Indian youths in sports and information technology in spite of being born with a hearing disability. And he has come to the support of jailed Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba.
Twenty-year-old Goyal of Bathinda, Punjab, was born into a modest family. His father is a journalist, Chander Parkash.
Parskash first noticed the hearing disability when his child remained unresponsive to the loud sounds of firecrackers in the neighbourhood on the night of Diwali—the Indian festival of lights.
Goyal's parents remained undeterred and brought him up with a great deal of care, despite many challenges. Young Goyal had to face discrimination at school in a conservative society, where ostracizing of children with disabilities is very common.
However, his parents ensured that he concentrated on education and extracurricular activities, helping him to master badminton and chess in addition to information technology.
After winning many championships and competitions in these fields, both at the provincial and higher level, Goyal received a national award, the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, in 2019. This came in the role model hearing impairments (male) category.
Young man speaks up for Delhi professor
This year, Goyal had already started a campaign to raise awareness about COVID-19 when he asked the prime minister of India to make arrangements for the release of a high-profile prisoner: Saibaba.
The Delhi University professor requires a wheelchair for mobility and he is being incarcerated under inhuman conditions.
In fact, Saibaba is 90 percent disabled below the waist and suffers from more than a dozen ailments. He was convicted and sentenced for life after being branded a Maoist sympathizer for defending the rights of Adivasis.
The Adivasis are the Indigenous peoples of India. They're fighting against forcible eviction from their traditional lands in the name of development by mining companies with the full backing of the government.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the vulnerability of Saibaba and other inmates locked up in overcrowded Indian jails has grown. A petition has been launched for the release of all political prisoners on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, but the government adamently refuses to free them.
Even United Nations human-rights experts call for Saibaba’s immediate release was conveniently ignored.
Goyal wrote on his Facebook page: “As I am a special child with absolute hearing impairment so I know the life of specially disabled persons. I have come to know about the plight of Saibaba, facing hellish conditions in jail and also under danger due to Covid-19."
Warning the Prime Minister that Saibaba could come “face to face with death”, the young man urged his release before it is too late.
Goyal demonstrates remarkable courage
In the meantime, Goyal has taken it upon himself to spread awareness about the coronavirus that has engulfed the entire world.
He has not only written a long poem to educate people to stay safe and be socially responsible, he has been going out to distribute flyers with a message on self-precautions.
His poem notes that the coronavirus does not discriminate between the rich and the poor or between communities. And he encourages everyone to fight it back jointly.
Goyal received a cash prize along with his national award. He decided to give back to the community in this time of crisis.
His father, Parkash, told Straight that apart from raising awareness about COVID-19, his son is trying to help the poor and needy by buying them food and essential supplies.
He hopes that his son will inspire compassion and courage among the privileged youths, who at times lose heart and try to indulge in substance abuse to overcome difficulties.
Indeed. Goyal’s stand on Saibaba is also a lesson for those who remain indifferent and silent to such injustice due to fear of the Indian state.