Photo of smiling Indian man, black border, 1973 - 2013I first encountered Rahul Cherian as a quiet voice of reason in the midst of a vitriolic e-mail battle during the deliberations on the new disability bill being debated at the time here in India. Tempers were running high, accusations were being hurled and there was definitely more heat than light. Email chains ran in the hundreds, reputations were in shreds and it took courage and nerve to wade in and venture an opinion.

Rahul didn’t hesitate. Respectfully, calmly, with humor and authority, he would bring a lawyer’s mind to the questions being debated. I came to look forward to hearing what he had to say on whatever was the topic of the day, always sure that it would be something with sense, intelligence and compassion.

One day, after making a timid comment of my own, I got a call from Rahul. It felt like destiny. I had gone in to my office on a holiday just to pick up some papers I had forgotten and the phone rang.

Imagine my surprise to find that it was Rahul Cherian on the line. THE Rahul Cherian. He had liked what I’d said and sensed the existence of a kindred spirit.

We became email friends. I knew nothing more about him than his work. I didn’t know he had a disability himself. I didn’t know about his family, his education or his life. All I knew was that he was passionately committed to using the law as a tool for social change. All I knew was that he worked tirelessly (and often thanklessly – he told me, just weeks before he died, that he had lost track of the number of donors who had turned Inclusive Planet’s funding requests down, saying its work was too nebulous, too hard to quantify) to advance the cause of people with disability.

He made connections constantly: access to civil aviation by physically impaired people, early intervention in Kerala, the rights of people with disability to use the internet, public libraries and people with special needs – he was a force of nature. He simply never stopped. He wrote briefs, shared information, gathered opinions and broke laws down so that lay people could understand them. He was a walking, talking resource centre.

And now he is gone. Rahul passed away this morning in Goa – where he had gone with his family for a brief holiday – from septicemia. His death is a body blow to the disability movement in India, a terrible loss to all of us who believe as he did in the rights of people with disability to information, education, access and justice.

All we can do now is to honor his memory by continuing the work he was so passionately committed to. As the tributes continue to pour in, let’s remember that all he would have wanted is for his work to be completed. Let’s carry it on.

Rahul: we will remember. We will build that Inclusive Planet you dreamed of. We are still here. Let that be your legacy.




Showing 9 comments
  • Anil Joshi

    What a tribute, Jo. I can’t find words……..

  • Nandita

    Have never met Rahul but through your evocative writing feel like I did. His untimely and tragic death will surely leave a void but as you say, the lives he touched will carry the flame forward. Thank you Jo.

  • Bindigana Ramaprasad

    It is up to us to hold the flag and run with it. U r doing just that and will always have my support.

  • kavitha

    Surely a big blow to the disability movement. He will always be remembered in the hearts of the million people

  • merry

    thank you jo.

  • Sunder

    A beautiful tribute; but nothing written can capture the beauiful canvas that Rahul was: boyish charm and enthusiasm, intellectual acumen, personal ability to reason cajolingly and charmingly with the most bloody-minded bureaucrat, capacity to rope in so many people witrhout ever once rubbing somebody the wrong way, … Whenever I called him on the phone, there was always such a wealth of warmth in his greeting. I, like half the world, have lost a great friend.

  • Ritika Sahni

    As always, an effective, communicative, evocative and heartfelt tribute.. for our very own Rahul.. that was the beauty, everybody could reach him..

  • Mary

    Dear Jo
    Thank you for writing this. I too had never met Rahul Cherian. Just met him on FB and chatted about a book I had been involved in. The world is so much better because Rahul was here, briefly. But enough to make a difference.

  • Amba


    Thanks so much for your lovely tribute.


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