Organisations in Himachal Pradesh are actively intervening to ensure that persons with disabilities can claim their rights
Wheelchair-bound Akshay Kumar was shocked when he was denied admission for an MPhil course in Himachal University under the three per cent quota he was entitled to under the law. The University Act did not have such a provision, he was told. Akshay struggled for more than a year to get what was his legal right.
Ultimately Umang Foundation, working for the rights of people with disabilities, took up his case and he was given admission as a special case by the university. The Himachal University agreed to include the reservation provision in its prospectus, thus paving the way for other students like Akshay to get admission.
He had to be carried on back every day to reach school with no proper road for any kind of transportation in Seoul, a remote village in Kangra district, it has been a constant struggle facing humiliation, apathy and discrimination at almost every stage.
After completing his MPhil with 65 per cent marks, Akshay had to fight yet another battle; this time for a PhD. There were only three seats for the course and his number was seventh on the merit list. The university authorities told him the quota could not be applied in this case. This despite the fact that the State government policy clearly states that at higher levels of education, where only few seats are available, due weightage will be given for admission keeping in view the objective of providing such reservation to persons with disabilities.
Akshay wrote a letter to the Chief of Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court pleading his case on the basic premise that the law is meant to give justice, not deny it. His letter was treated as a PIL and the High Court gave direction to the university to allot him a seat for the PhD.
But his ordeal was not over as he was allotted a room in the hostel located on a steep hill from where he could not ply his wheel chair. Once again his case was taken up on the grounds of a provision for barrier-free environment enshrined in the law. He was ultimately given a room in the university premises.
In another case, it was only after the Principal Secretary (Education) intervened that a leading government school in Shimla agreed to admit three visually challenged girls. The High Court directed the school authorities and the State government not to charge any tuition and hostel fees from them. The Court had acted suo moto on a letter written by Ajai Srivastava, chairman of Umang Foundation on the denial of justice to the girls.
Visually challenged Kartar Sharma had been appointed as Hostel Assistant in the Dr Y.S. Parmer Agriculture University in Solan district but the Medical Board would not give him the medical fitness certificate. The Board’s argument was how a visually challenged person works as a hostel assistant. Again it was active intervention that got Kartar the certificate and he could join duty.
Although a comprehensive law for the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities came into being in 1995, its implementation remains tardy mainly because of the apathy and insensitivity of the authorities, lack of infrastructure as well as general awareness.