Javed Abidi obituary: ‘Be ready to fight your own battle’

Javed Abidi had urged people with disability to stand up for their rights

Updated - December 04, 2021 10:55 pm IST

Published - March 04, 2018 09:59 pm IST - Chennai

Leading from the front:  A file photo of the convenor of Disabled Rights Group, Javed Abidi, centre, leading a protest in Delhi

Leading from the front: A file photo of the convenor of Disabled Rights Group, Javed Abidi, centre, leading a protest in Delhi

Sitting in his office in Delhi’s Hauz Khas in the summer of 1998, Javed Abidi was forthright about how people with disability could help themselves: by standing up for their rights under the Constitution with dignity and a sense of equality.

This simple truism had a ring of profoundness to it because it was the clearest articulation of the challenge by any activist in the movement.

Pragmatic strategy

Javed Abidi’s clear conviction that the disabled must fight their own battles, combat injustice and discrimination with support from fellow-travellers presented a new vision. His understanding that such a mission could only be carried out under the democratic constitutional scheme of things bore evidence of a clear-sighted, realistic and pragmatic strategy. During the past two decades, he executed this agenda in every campaign that he spearheaded, under the banner of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) and the Disability Rights Group (DRG).


The first-ever comprehensive law for disabled people, the Supreme Court ruling on equal access to passengers in wheel chairs, the census enumeration of disability in 2001, recruitment under the all-India services and the potentially transformative 2016 law testify to the efficacy of that approach.

The NCPEDP, which Javed led, is an unusual entity both within the NGO community and among institutions working in the area of disability. The organisation’s unique identity derives from its single-minded focus on advocacy for the rights of people with all types of impairments. Ever since its inception, the organisation steered clear of assuming any role in the delivery of rehabilitative, educational and other services. What it did was to fill the vacuum in terms of policy and legal advocacy for disabled people.

What marked Javed’s highly visible, intense leadership was to reject the NGO straitjacket. The NCPEDP is as much a lobby group, pressing the government, public institutions and the private sector on policies.

Indeed, his fundamental premise was that no area of socio-economic, cultural and political life fell outside the purview of disability.

Above partisan politics

When the new disability rights Bill did not get passed under the UPA, he made no secret of his disappointment, including the lack of initiative of the Left parties. Yet, even with strong political conviction, he scrupulously kept disability rights above partisan politics. He worked closely with the current and past NDA governments, though.


Javed internalised the idea that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Many sections of disabled people rejected the new 2016 law, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, but he argued that under the circumstances, this was the best that could be done. He saw the recognition given to 21 disability conditions as major progress, considering that the 1995 law defined only seven types.

Javed welcomed the new law also because it provided for penalties, which the 1995 Act did not. His staff were despatched to lobby with every Ministry, including Budget-making in Finance, the Transport and Urban Development Ministries, and even the formulation of smart city programmes.

His leadership and advocacy won him a second term as the global chair of the Disabled People’s International in 2016.

He would have been happier if the Centre had created a dedicated Ministry to protect the rights of the large number of disabled people in India.

Javed Abidi passed away in Delhi on Sunday. He was 53.

Initial reports indicated that he succumbed to a chest infection. He is survived by his mother, a younger brother and a younger sister.

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