Last year, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi said persons with disabilities would be referred to as divyang , he probably hadn’t expected the confusion it would throw budget-planners into, or the insecurity this definition would introduce among the recipients of such welfare benefits. The reason: with no clear definition of divyang notified officially, budgetary provisions remain vague.
While presenting the Rail Budget on March 26, Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu mentioned divyang at least six times, but used ‘disabled’ twice as well. According to Amba Salelkar of Chennai-based NGO Equals Centre for Promotion of Social Justice, this leads to ambiguity.
“Categories like senior citizens, for example, are clearly defined. How can you make allocations for a class of people who are not defined? Also, when the term was introduced last year by Mr Modi’s during his speech, it was unanimously rejected by people working in the disability sector, and several representations were made to the government to voice objections,” she says.
Salelkar points out that divyang is not associated with the Centre’s ‘Accessible India’ campaign, nor does it feature in strategy document. “This is not just a question of semantics. If divyang is a group, whom does it include and exclude?” she adds.
Mumbai-based activist Sudhir Badami, a member of the Bombay High Court-appointed committee for making the city’s railways friendly towards persons with disability, said many opposed the term for misrepresenting the disabled community at an expert conclave in Delhi last week.
“It is like saying ‘harijan’ for Dalits. When you say something is god-given, you indicate that people should be the same as where they are. Divyang comes close to the English term ‘differently-abled’, but we are talking about people who are not able in many ways,” Badami said. He added that the Railway Ministry’s move to raise the height of 228 platforms in the Mumbai division is the result of petitions in court and the Bombay High Court’s interventions.
Access delayed is access denied
Although the Rail Budget makes certain provisions for the disabled such as toilets, Braille-enabled coaches and online facilities, accessibility still remains a major issue. Activist Nilesh Singhit, who conducted an audit of Mumbai stations in 2007, said the ‘Accessible India’ campaign lacks clear guidelines, timelines and deadlines.
“I cannot do an audit without standard guidelines. The budget speaks of toilets, but does not tackle accessibility,” says Singhit, while making his objection clear to the disabled being termed divyang and ‘challenged’.
He added, “What do you mean by ‘challenged’? I am not able to do things because of the way infrastructure is designed. The words ‘disabled’ and ‘persons with disability’ are used in international conventions, and laws are structured around these concepts. Divyang, however, has a religious connotation.”
In Mumbai, only a few major stations like CST, Mumbai Central, Dadar and Bandra have toilets for the disabled.
Platform edges have been fixed with chequered blocks and audio signals are in place for the benefit of the visually-impaired.
However, wheelchair accessibility has not yet been addressed, said Raju Waghmare, who filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court in 2007 seeking disabled-friendly stations.
In Mumbai, only a few major stations like CST, Mumbai Central have toilets for the disabled