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Nepal earthquake 2015

Krishna's Story

Krishna Gautam (on wheelchair, who is Gen Sec, Centre for Independent Living, Kathmandu) talks to a friend at the temporary shelter for persons with disabilities at Jawalakhel, Lalitpur near Kathmandu.

Krishna talks about his experience during the recent Nepal earthquake and the work he plans to do for rights of persons with disabilities.


Krishna Gautam lives with his wife and two children (a girl and a boy, Pratikshya who is 12 and Pratik, 10) in Kathmandu. In the past, he was president of the mid-western chapter of ‘National Federation of the Disabled Nepal’ (NFDN). He was also the first person with disabilities to become a member at ‘CBR National Network Nepal’. Later, in 2004, Krishna got the opportunity to do a year-long ‘Duakin Leadership Training’ where he learnt about the concept of ‘independent living’, a worldwide movement of disabled people who work for self-determination and equal opportunities. On his return to Nepal, Krishna mobilized a group of people to start the ‘Centre for Independent Living’ (CIL) in Kathmandu. Presently, he works with the CIL as the General Secretary. As a result of polio, Krishna uses a wheelchair.

On 25th April, Krishna was in Nepalgunj, a town about 500 km west of Kathmandu, when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal. There were tremors of up to two minutes and by evening, at least 18 aftershocks had been felt. By 8pm local time more than 800 people were known to have died, with more than 2000 casualties.

Below is an excerpt of a conversation with Krishna Gautam, about his experience during the recent Nepal earthquake and the work CIL plans to do in the aftermath for the rights of persons with disabilities.

When did you start CIL? What’s the idea behind starting this organization?

We started CIL in Kathmandu in 2006. We were a group of ten people with disabilities who believed it’s important to work with rights-based approach in disability sector. Earlier, whatever we did mostly centred around charity based approach… What CIL wants is that the disability movement must be led by people with severe and profound disabilities; and their issues must be addressed and resolved by persons with severe disabilities themselves. That’s the reason we started CIL.

Where were you during the 25th April earthquake? What did you experience on that fateful day?

I was in Nepalgunj… I was invited at a friend’s place for lunch. At the entrance, two persons carried my wheelchair and helped me get inside the house. After lunch, we were just watching TV and talking to each other when the ground began to shake, making such a terrible noise. Before I could make sense of what was happening, the hosts had left the house and reached the garden outside… The ground continued to shake and I thought I’ll fall off the wheelchair. Later, the hosts came back and helped me get out of the house. The earth was shaking even when we reached outside. It was such a horrifying experience. Luckily, it was a single-storey house…

When did you return to Kathmandu? How difficult was it to reach the capital after the quake?

Actually, I was to take a flight back to capital that Saturday evening. But due to earthquake, all flights were cancelled. Even telephone connections were down. An hour later, I could finally speak to my family in Kathmandu and got to know that my daughter was slightly injured… Later, I somehow boarded an overnight bus from Nepalgunj to Kathmandu to be with my family. On 26th April, I could finally meet my wife and children. But a few hours later there was another massive aftershock. I was so worried about my family…

What are you doing for fellow persons with disabilities who are affected by the earthquake?

Krishna Gautam (left, on wheelchair) with his colleagues from the Centre for Independent Living, Kathmandu, in a meeting with Tushar Wali (PM, CBM ERU - in white shirt) and Prakash Raj Wagle (Country Coordinator, CBM Nepal) in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake.
For the first few days, we were so scared that we could not leave our families. The aftershocks kept coming and we couldn’t do anything at all. Meanwhile, we have been calling our Disabled Person’s Organisations (DPOs) in the affected districts to know about the damage caused to persons with disabilities. Also, we have set up some tents in an open ground in Jawalakhel as temporary shelter for people with severe disabilities whose shelters have collapsed and have nowhere to go. At the moment there are about 15 persons in the tents here, most of them wheelchair user and severe spinal conditions. We are expecting some more persons with severe disabilities from worst hit districts like Kavre and Sindhupalchowk. They can stay here up to 3 months, or till the time they have no other alternative… In the coming days, we’re also trying to provide peer counseling and assistive devices in this shelter.

Tomorrow, you’re going to attend the Protection cluster meeting. How do you plan to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities?

I believe, persons with disabilities are the first casualties during the earthquake. They are also most likely to be left behind and forgotten during the immediate rescue and relief work. So, we’re planning to organize as many persons with disabilities and attend the cluster meeting tomorrow. We’ll put forward that access to relief supplies and temporary shelter must be inclusive of persons with disabilities. For that I think we need to organize, make our presence felt in such meetings, only then our voices will be heard. Most importantly, we’re going to advocate that the earthquake will result in many more people with injuries and disabilities who will need to be looked at seriously. The government needs to look into the issues of their recovery and rehabilitation, and later the issue of employment as well.

Why do you think disability issues needs to be advocated in such cluster meetings? Why is disability forgotten?

I think that’s because we haven’t been able to raise our issues effectively, or mainstream our issues at the national level. The reasons for this could be that we aren’t yet organized among ourselves, we lack coordination and we’re yet to demonstrate our strength and impact as a group and community. We are still inside our houses. Time has come that we leave our houses and fight for our rights.

More reading

Nepal earthquake

CBM emergency team working with partners to provide for immediate and long-term needs in Nepal - including people with disabilities



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