A World Bank study in 2007 reported that people with disabilities were among the most marginalised in Indian society and 50 per cent of the people surveyed saw disability as “a curse of God”. Training that would make them self-dependant is not available for those away from the cities. Job opportunities for them are not easy even where they could fit in. They are not able to demand their rights and there are not many to canvass their case.
Efforts of United Nations
United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is a major step, which has set the wheels in motion for the disabled. The UN Charter recognises the inherent dignity and worth of the disabled and their inalienable rights and the universality, indivisibility, inter-dependence and inter-relatedness of all human rights and fundamental freedom as under various covenants of the UN as regards economic, social and cultural rights, civil and political rights, elimination of racial discrimination and all forms of discrimination against women, convention against tortures and other cruel and inhuman degrading punishments, conventions of rights of child, migrant workers and their families.
Their rights have all been recalled in UNCRPD in its preamble. It is in this background, the disabled with impairments and attitudinal, environmental barriers are to get above their limitations and effectively participate in the society on equal basis. Policy guidelines constituted under world programmes of action are contemplated concerning “Disabled Persons” with rules to ensure equalisation of opportunities at regional, national and international levels.
Discrimination is to be avoided with recognition of diversity as regards differing abilities of the human beings. Assistance for them ensuring international co-operation for research and giving the disabled their own choice of life are the objects. Printing books in Braille for blind, hearing and development of sign language for the deaf and physical support for physically disabled are some such steps.
It is pointed out, that physical disability aggravates other forms of discrimination based on race, creed, colour, language, religion, political, national, ethnic, besides the differences arising out of social origin, property, birth, age or any other status. It is recognised that girls and women with disabilities suffer negligence, maltreatment and exploitation.
What is expected of Member States?
UN Convention assures dignity for the disabled requiring that they are not only not discriminated against, but also allowed effective participation and inclusion in the society. Their differences should be accepted as part of human diversity, give them equal opportunity and accessability, so that they are integrated with the society.
The Convention expects member countries to promote realisation of the objectives by appropriate legislation, administrative and other measures to ensure elimination of discrimination in all forms, to undertake and promote research in respect of technologies for communication, mobility and training with reference to their expertise at affordable cost for them, while providing all support services and facilities.
Training of professionals devoted to the service of disabled is one such activity expected of the member States, besides participation in international efforts and ensure access and justice for the disabled besides security for them and save them from torture or cruel inhuman treatment to which they are often exposed and free them from all exploitation, violence and abuse.
Education suitable for the disabled is one of the objectives, which is highlighted. Both habilitation and rehabilitation ensuring minimum economic necessaries, where their respective families cannot afford have been pressed.
Member States are expected to be pro-active, so as to reach out to the disabled. The need for encouraging the disabled in political and public activities is also stressed, as it is only by their active participation, they can protect themselves. A report of the Committee appointed for this purpose every two years by the General Assembly makes this Convention a live one.
Disabled children live in misery as they are treated as potentially life long dependents hardly ever realising that they can have a meaningful life no different from others, if only they are given training and opportunities not only to get over their disabilities to the extent possible, but also enable them to realise their potential and to contribute to the society.
The position of girl child and women generally is pathetic. Helen Keller is a classic example of a person, who was blind, deaf and dumb, but could make a life for not only herself but make an enormous contribution for the cause of the disabled. Her life has been both an example and a lesson for the community of the disabled. But India like Juggernaut moves ever slowly but not as surely.
The action for helping the disabled has advanced in different countries to different extents. U.K. has set up a Joint Paliamentary Committee on human rights with reference to UNCRPD and has started functioning from 2011 taking evidence from about 300 witnesses.
Its report shows that there is very little awareness about issues relating to the disabled. The report was highly critical of Ms.Maria Miller, the Minister for Disabled People for the “soft” progress in implementing UNCRPD slower than other legislations on human rights. Though U.K. has ratified UNCRPD in 2009 with support of all parties, it is pointed out that the budget allotted for this task has been poor.
Number of claims filed by the disabled persons in the courts, it is pointed out, indicates lack of accountability of administration requiring the disabled to fight for their rights. Is the position in India different?
What India has or has not done?
Many member countries have taken action and enacted their own statutes based upon the UN Convention. Government of India has enacted some legislations, such as Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.
This Act recognises blindness, low vision, leprosy, hearing impairment, locomotor disability, mental retardation and mental illness as disabilities. Rehabilitation Council of India to provide training for the disabled was set up in 1992 and amended in 2000 by an Act of Parliament to provide for accommodation for professionals across the country. The effectiveness of its reach has not been significant.
Income tax law has recognised special deduction from taxable income for those maintaining and incurring expenses on medical treatment of a dependent with disability understood as under the Act, 1995. Some more disabilities have been recognised with reference to section 2 of National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999.
Persons with disabilities referred under these Acts are given a higher income tax exemption presently Rs. 1 lakh more than the general exemption limit for the handicapped under section 80U of the Income Tax Act. Tax concessions avail only a miniscule minority of the disabled, and even these are scuttled by administration as is evident from the case of a disabled Government officer and a lawyer, who were denied tax benefit on the ground, that they are already in gainful employment! The High Court had come to their rescue pointing out, that if it were the correct view, a person without income and without tax liability alone will be entitled to tax benefit!
There has been some legislations like Mental Health Act, 1987, Persons with Disability Act, 1995 and National Trust Act, 1999. A more comprehensive Bill in the name of Disabled Rights Bill, 2013 to accord with international obligations as a member of the UN was introduced in February 7, 2013, but was adjourned.
This Bill in effect adopted the commitments under UN Convention, inter alia, proposing a committee to monitor the State and Central organisations expected to be created to carry out the objectives. But the Bill now under the title Disability Bill, 2014 is still pending, though there has been assurances even before the new Government from all parties that it will become law.
Disabled are agitated
Disabled are also organising themselves. Non-Government Organisations take a lead in helping them. The disability sector seeks participation in Government efforts for reform with a motto “nothing about us, without us”. Representations and demonstrations have been made from time to time. Javed Abidi, Convenor of Disabled Rights Group has pointed out, that though India has ratified UN Convention in 2007, it has done very little.
Muralidharan, Secretary, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled says that the fact, that disabled have not organised dharnas does not mean that their cause can continue to be neglected. A vigil from 5 p.m. to midnight by the National Association of the Deaf people around Vice President house and similar demonstration including one at Pallavaram (Chennai) in Tamil Nadu besides other agitations indicate the situation in India.
Job opportunities lacking
Job opportunities recognised even in Government Orders (GOs) is hardly ever honoured. There are many organisations either for the blind, deaf and physically handicapped with different problems, but with hardly any response. The representations made by them in offices of various State and Central Government for amenities and jobs to which the State and Central Governments are committed are not honoured, though there are special officers dealing with concerns of the disabled.
There is no impressive record of service in any of the States. There is no special mention as regards budget allocations or any statistics to show how the Governments have made an improvement in the lot of disabled. Performance does not match awareness, which is itself at the stage of infancy.
What then can we do?
Advanced countries are able to do better not because of greater availability of funds, but also because of awareness and also because they have greater respect for human life.
The belief, that the disabled are a burden on the society must disappear. Important positions suitable to them are held by the differently abled. Physically handicapped persons and now even a blind person have qualified in the top IAS examination.
There are many persons engaged in technical jobs for which they were trained in printing presses, mechanical workshops and maintenance, besides clerical jobs with some initial training. It is necessary, that the schools and colleges should cater to the disabled as is done by some institutions.
What is required is the societal awareness apart from the disabled themselves having the necessary confidence to fight for their rights, which are available under the law and those which should be available.
This is true for all the under-privileged. But the disabled has been a lot for whom there had been lesser number of spokesman. But things are changing and hopefully the change will be faster. Meanwhile what is required as an assurance from the society “Nil desperandum – Don’t despair?” Will such assurance be forthcoming? Hopefully, it will.
GOOD – OLD BOOK CENSORED
- Demand For Censoring Unreasonable
Madam Megha Kumar is an oxonian and her book Communalism and Sexual violence: Ahmedabad since 1969 has been published in 2004 by Orient Blackswan book-company. The publishers have announced the book on their website along with other several other print – copy of books that are also on sale in show rooms now.
The Shiksha Bachoco Andolan Samiti has filed a case against this history book with a request that it has to be banned. The reason being that the book is most likely to promote feelings of enmity, hatred and ill-will between Hindu and Muslim communities. This text-book was referred to the legal opinion of former Attorney General Soli J. Sorabjee. He has also endorsed the same opinion and said that the accusation against the book cannot be condoned by merely telling that it is only a historical truth.
Another opinion is that a Supreme Court Judgment in 2010 in the case pertaining to a book on Shivaji that the phraseology of a book must be judged from the standard of reason and knowledge and not with a hostile view. If this criteria is applied in the case of Megha Kumar’s book, there is no offence in any part of the book and it can continue to be on sale.
However, the Orient Blackswan company has requested Madam Kumar to revise a few objectionable paragraphs of her book. Until the revised edition come, the book is presently with held after being put on sale even though it has been sold in all these years.