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Trying to Rewrite History

This blogpost is written by Deepti Gahrotra, Communications Manager, Score Foundation. Please note that Eyeway's Blog entries reflect the opinions of the author and contributors, meant to encourage debate and discussion, and not Score Foundation's official policy position.
It is no secret that in India people with disabilities have always been treated as second class citizens. The biggest indicator of the fact is that the People with Disabilities Act 1995, the only law in India meant for the protection of the rights of people with disabilities, was enacted 45 years after our constitution came into effect. Up until then discrimination against people with disabilities did not exist as a concept in India. Article 15 of our constitution deal with the grounds on which a person, a citizen of India, cannot be discriminated against. The article talks about discrimination due to gender, religion, social stature, ethnicity, however what remains innocuously absent is any mention of disability. All this clearly points out that disability has been on the agenda of policymakers in India.

This belief was cemented on 18th December when both the houses of the parliament shut down 2 days early without tabling the Disability Rights Bill 2012, even though it was unanimously approved by the Cabinet on 12th December. What this means is that come the general elections in 2014 the bill, and with it, 4 years of hard work, and 70 million disabled peoples dreams for a better life will be dashed to the ground. The Disability Rights Bill 2012, should it be enacted, will be a huge step up in fight for Disability Rights in India. The People with Disabilities Act 1995, drafted somewhat hurriedly, fails to even mention some disabilities, such as learning disabilities, let alone provide for their protection. Furthermore, it only provides for 3% reservation in government sector jobs for visually impaired, hearing impaired and orthopaedically challenged people, while remaining quiet on other important issues such as Right to Education or barrier free access public amenities and services for persons with disabilities.

Disability Rights Bill 2012, as the name suggests, moves away from the charity based model, which saw disabled people as subjects of charity, and for the first time adopts a right based approach to disability. This means that the Draft Bill looks as disabled people as citizens of the country with rights that need to be protected, as opposed to people that need to be provided for. The Bill is unique in its approach to identifying barriers that create hurdles and keep people with disabilities from accessing services that will enable them to live fulfilling and comfortable lives. These barriers can be barriers of Policy, Technology, Mental, and others.

Today representatives from various groups working to protect and further the interest of disabled people in India got together to brief the press and unveil the “Strategy for Pushing the Passage of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill in Parliament” in the capital. The event saw people like Mr. Javed Abidi, Convenor, Disabled Rights Group (DRG), Mr. Murlidharan, Secretary, National Platform for the rights of the Disabled (NPRD), Ms. Syamala, Executive Director, Aadi, Ms. Mary Baruha from Action for Autism, Mr. Dipendra Manocha from National Association for the Blind (NAB) and Mr. A. S. Narayan from the National Association of the Deaf among others.

It was made clear at the briefing that the disability sector nationwide will be coming together to push for the Bill and protest against the step fatherly treatment meted out to the Disability Bill, while the Janlokpal Bill was passed in the winter session with much fanfare. Over the next week disability activists will be looking to have meetings with various political party members in the hopes of reconvening the Parliament once before the General Elections 2014 and passing the Bill once and for all. To kick start this, a team of disability activists will be meeting Mr. Prakash Karat of CPM and talking to him about the issue.

In his remarks Mr. Abidi made it clear that the issue is not a political one and required only a little bit of political help to be pushed through, so that 70 million disabled people in India can be benefitted. In his closing statement he remarked, “Over the next 4 days as the people of India are celebrating, the disabled population of India will be out on the streets. That is what we have been brought down to and forced to do. The political class of this country has let us down badly and over the next week, the whole country will see who can actually walk the talk.”

The disability sector is coming together on the 31st of December 2013 at 5 pm in front of the Vice-President's House, 6, Maulana Azad Road, New Delhi, to hold a candlelight vigil. We request everyone to come out and support the cause since people with disabilities are as much a part of the mainstream of our country as anybody else.

This blogpost is written by Deepti Gahrotra, Communications Manager, Score Foundation.

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