Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Lack of Political Will disables Persons with Disabilities

Here is a balanced piece from Economic and Political Weekly

Disabled by Lack of Political Will
The government’s failure to table the Disabilities Bill in Parliament is unforgivable.

For the estimated 70 million disabled people in India, the government’s failure to table the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill in Parliament in the winter session was another act of cruel neglect and one that their representative organisations are gearing up to tackle. For the four years that it took for the bill to be drafted, disability rights’ advocacy groups and activists kept the pressure up. The approval of the draft bill by the union cabinet on 12 December 2013 raised their hopes only to be dashed. With general elections looming ahead and the uncertainty of how much legislative business will be conducted at the next session, these activists fear that their efforts would simply be washed away. Protests and agitations were held to demand that the bill should be taken up in the February session even as the disabled bitterly pointed out that politicians do not seem to count them as a valued vote bank.

The disabled in India are “invisible”, not to politicians alone; society at large disregards the disabled. Since they do not easily fit into the sociocultural expectations of what “normal” men and women should be like, the disabled are either to be pitied and dealt with charitably or shunned and ignored. To a certain extent, this
attitude was challenged by the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 which was considered landmark legislation at the time. However, while this Act did go a small distance in ensuring greater acceptance of the rights of the disabled to employment, not only its implementation but also its scope left much to be desired. It relies too much on the state’s initiative in framing schemes for the disabled while emphasising their vulnerabilities rather than on enhancing their capabilities. It also leans heavily towards the medical approach, emphasising the physical disabilities and tending to view
welfare measures as the solution. It is a familiar experience that most government schemes aimed at a particular section of society suffer from lack of coordination and dovetailing of the efforts of the various agencies at work. Another area that needs attention is the one to do with the socio-economic vulnerabilities of the parents/ guardians/caregivers of the disabled.

A number of crucial areas are also out of the 1995 Act’s ambit, like the problems faced by disabled women, disabled persons’ accessibility to cultural activities and sports, their preschool and higher education, the rights of the mentally ill (here too the women have special vulnerabilities) and many other nuanced rights that are taken for granted by the non-disabled. Disability rights’ groups wanted a comprehensive legislation that would be in keeping with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which India has ratified and which stresses fundamental rights. Also, this new legislation would have to be hinged on the non-negotiable rights approach rather than doling out concessions. The Ministry of Social Justice and
Empowerment’s proposal to amend the 1995 Act came under fire and thus work began on drafting the new bill.

The 1995 Act however helped to bring the rights and problems of the disabled into public and media discourse and also helped different rights groups to band together on a common platform to a large extent. It must also be noted here that this law suffers from the usual problem of implementation which depends again to a great extent on a sensitive bureaucracy and committed politicians. While looking at the general rights approach however, the gargantuan problems faced by the disabled in finding employment cannot be ignored. Recently, the Supreme Court (SC) ordered a minimum of 3% reservation for them in all central and state government jobs. The significance of the SC’s order lies in the fact that it quashed the central government’s 2005 office memorandum and claim that reservation for the disabled must be restricted to “identifi ed” posts. The apex court ruled that the reservation must be on the basis of the total number of vacancies in a particular cadre rather than posts identified by the government. The SC pointed out that employment is an important
feature of empowerment and inclusion of the disabled and it was lack of employment that forced this section to live in poverty and fail to contribute to family and community.

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2012 has won the thumbs up on most counts since it has tried to do away with the shortcomings in the 1995 Act. However, there are a few aspects like that of inclusive education of the disabled and their employment in certain identifi ed posts that have been flagged by some
disability rights advocates as areas that need to be reworked. These and related issues need to be discussed widely once the bill is tabled in Parliament. Will the government ensure that the hopes and aspirations of the disabled are not dashed and the efforts of all those who have worked on the bill do not go in vain?

Source:  Economic and Political Weekly

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