“It doesn’t adopt UN convention in its true spirit”

The Rights of the Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014, tabled in the Rajya Sabha, has evoked sharp reactions from disabilities rights activists across the country.

The Hindu, in a report, “New Bill to strengthen definition of disabilities,” on February 9, has said that under pressure from disability rights activists, the government is likely to introduce 16 amendments in the Bill on Monday.

The government had tabled, in a hurry, an older version of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha as the amendments approved by the Cabinet late on Thursday could not be incorporated in the draft.

The Chennai-based Disability Rights Alliance (DRA), a conglomerate of disability rights activists, says the Bill is “regressive and retrograde,” and does not adopt the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD) in its true spirit.

In a statement here on Sunday, the DRA and several other organisations said Section 110 of the Bill provided that its provisions shall be in addition to, and not in derogation of, the provisions of any other law in force, which effectively meant that all laws which actively discriminated against persons with disabilities remained untouched. This violated the State’s obligation under the U.N. convention to take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish laws, regulations, customs and practices that constituted such discrimination.

“According to the UNCRPD, state parties are to grant an unconditional right to equality and non-discrimination to all persons with disabilities, on a par with others. In this Bill, the Right of Equality is curtailed under Section 3(3), which says the right against discrimination exists ‘unless it can be shown that the impugned act or omission is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.’”

The terms “proportionate means” and “legitimate aim,” it said, are highly subjective and can perpetuate discrimination.

Further, the statement said, the UNCRPD lays down specific obligations of the State while discussing multiple discrimination faced by women with disabilities. States are obliged to take measures to ensure that they enjoy fully and equally all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

However, the Bill fails to acknowledge these beyond a cursory “hat tip” in Section 3(2), which says the appropriate government shall take special measures to protect the rights of women and children with disability and also take steps to utilise the capacity of persons with disabilities by providing an appropriate environment. This is limited to “protection” of rights and not empowerment.

Importantly, the DRA sought political representation for differently-abled people to ensure that their voices were heard.

“There are some local laws and executive orders that disallow persons with disabilities from contesting elections,” Rajiv, a legal expert with DRA said.

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