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‘Divyangjan’ is a controversial word similar to ‘mentally ill’, says U.N. body

File photo of a differently-abled girl tying rakhi to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  

The United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has marked the word ‘Divyangjan’ as controversial and similar to derogatory terminologies such as “mentally ill”.

The CRPD during its 22nd session from August 26 to September 20 in Geneva also expressed concern over the “situation of persons with disabilities, including Muslim persons with disabilities, rendered stateless as a result of the registry process undertaken in the State of Assam, and currently in detention camps”.

The registry process referred to is the National Register of Citizens (NRC) whose updated final version was published on August 31. Six jails in Assam, serving as detention centres, have more than 1,000 declared foreigners but there is no specific data on persons with disabilities among them.

The CRPD’s concluding observations on the initial report of India mentioned: “Legislation, public policies and practices that discriminate against persons with disabilities in particular guardianship, institutionalisation, psychiatric treatment and segregated community services based on disability, and negative perceptions, including ‘normal life’ as opposed to the lives of persons with disabilities, and derogatory terminology like ‘mentally ill’, or ‘divyangjan’, the latter which is still controversial.”

The Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment was named ‘Divyangjan’ after the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government took charge in Delhi.

Twice during his ‘Mann ki Baat’ programme in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had suggested that the term ‘divyang’ meaning ‘divine body’ be used instead of ‘viklang’ or ‘disabled’ for persons with disabilities.

Disability rights activists said ‘divyang’ and ‘divyangjan’ have some kind of acceptability in northern India, but most people in the country consider it controversial because it takes away the reality from the lives of differently-abled people. Besides, no one was consulted about the terminology before using the term officially.

Touching upon Assam’s citizen registry exercise, the U.N. body observed that the NRC service centres did not provide barrier-free access to persons with disabilities. It recommended respect and protection of all human rights of “persons with disabilities rendered stateless” by the NRC as well as those in the detention camps.

The CRPD asked India to urgently adopt measures to “allow the reacquisition of nationality, and ratify or accede to 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness”.

It also underlined the lack of an explicit prohibition of disability-based discrimination in the Constitution, and the exceptions to the anti-discrimination clause in Section 3.3 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 allowing for discrimination against persons with disabilities under certain circumstances.

“The country will have to work together (with the UN body) to bring in change in the policy and implementation of RPWD Act to make make the rights real for people with disabilities. The responsibility is on civil society organisations and also the Government of India to show commitment to rights-based inclusive development,” Arman Ali, one of the conveners of CRPD told The Hindu.

Mr. Ali, from Assam, is the executive director of the Delhi-based National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 10:22:22 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/divyangjan-is-a-controversial-word-similar-to-mentally-ill-says-un-body/article29508027.ece

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