New Delhi having ratified the U.N. Convention on the rights of the disabled in 2007, it is time the government enacted fresh legislation to replace the 1995 law
The national convention for youth with disabilities earlier this month in New Delhi may not have been greeted with the kind of euphoria that is occasioned whenever the country’s youth-power becomes a talking point. But there were enough indications during the two-day event of the glimpses of change unfolding in the profile of people with various impairments in metropolitan India. This is notwithstanding poor implementation of the 1995 law, including the failure to constitute statutory bodies in many States. Not to mention the universal phenomenon of a forbidding physical environment for wheelchair users, the near non-existence of sign language interpreters for the hearing-impaired and the lack of effective protection for people with multiple disabilities. In a small way perhaps, the government, the media, industry and the disability campaigns can take justified pride that a modest beginning has been made in the past two decades to centre stage disability on the equal opportunities and development agenda.
Here was a gathering of a nationwide representation of students with a diverse range of impairments from the country’s top institutes of management, technology, law and the humanities. Their nomination to the convention — held under the aegis of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) — was the outcome of a 2012 survey on the number of students with impairments enrolled in the country’s top-ranking colleges and universities.
Some forward movement
A cross-disabilities gathering of this nature would have been unthinkable a few decades earlier, when all but the visually impaired were the dominant voice in the discourse. Canvassing persons with impairments has become an integral part of the country’s decennial population census since 2001. Similarly, the growing emphasis on the provision of accessible polling booths during elections in recent years has infused new vigour into the very idea of universal adult suffrage in India. It would have been beyond anybody’s imagination until recently that people with impairments could qualify for openings under the Union Public Service Commission.
There is recognition of the moral and pragmatic case for a policy of inclusion and reasonable accommodation within industry as well. A diversity and inclusivity policy is among the key initiatives of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom). The president of Nasscom, Som Mittal, pretty much sums up the case for inclusion in his foreword to the Nasscom Foundation’s Inclusivity at the Workplace compendium. For India’s recent spectacular growth story to continue, the Millennium Development Goals must be achieved, and key to realising the latter is to mainstream the inclusion of the disabled, he says. The initiative calls upon enterprises to formulate explicit policies on inclusion, with targets and performance indicators to measure the impact of diversity. Such evidence of commitment to inclusion enhances credibility among employees and clients. Of value to HR professionals is a manual on hiring persons with disabilities, compiled by the Diversity and Equal Opportunity Centre and with backing from the Confederation of Indian Industry.
Palpable during discussions at the convention also was considerable impatience with the pace of progress. For instance, the Planning Commission’s failure to spell out any clear commitments for the disabled in the 12th Plan document, having made a few promises in the previous plan, came in for some criticism. Mr. M.A. Baby, member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), one of the speakers of the session on politics, leadership and disability, was fielding questions on the participation of disabled people in representative bodies on the lines of reserved positions for other minority groups. Ms Meenakshi Lekhi, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s nominee to the convention, was constrained to clarify that her party’s faith in the family as the principal caregiver for disabled people should not be construed as an attempt to undermine the basic responsibilities of state institutions.
Having ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities way back in 2007, it is imperative upon the government to enact fresh legislation to replace the 1995 law. In the absence of the requisite legal instrument, the government has already had to face up to its inability to furnish the periodic report to the relevant international committee. A more real concern is that it would be impossible for the country to realise the commitments for the welfare of millions of India’s disabled without a new law.