Visually challenged candidate’s nomination rejected in OdishaBHUBANESWAR January 26, 2022 19:07 IST
Sparks off debate on political empowerment of persons with disabilities
The nomination of a visually challenged person, an aspirant for the post of Sarpanch in Odisha’s Nuapada district, was rejected during scrutiny as he placed his signature in the Braille language. This has sparked off a debate over the political empowerment of persons with disabilities (PwD).
Shantilal Sabar, who hails from a tribal community, had filed his nomination for the post of Sarpanch in Gadnamer panchayat in the ensuing election to Panchayati Raj institutions, scheduled be held between February 16 and 24 in the State.
During the filing of his nomination, he signed in the Braille language. The Returning Officer, however, rejected his nomination on the ground that Mr. Sabar “does not know how to read and write Odia”.
Mr. Sabar unsuccessfully contested the panchayat election for the same post in 2007. “Braille is a universal language recognised in all countries. A person who pursues an academic career in Braille is also considered literate. I fail to understand why I was not considered fit for contesting for the Sarpanch post,” he said.
According to Mr. Sabar, he passed the Matriculation exam in 2003 and is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree from the Indira Gandhi National Open University.
The 40-year-old Sarpanch aspirant said, “Despite having a physical handicap, I have been a social worker for many years. I work through my own organisation. When a government can facilitate visually challenged voters to cast votes in Braille signage, it’s unfathomable that visually challenged persons cannot become people’s representatives.”
When contacted, Taranisen Naik, Nuapada Sub-Collector, said, “His candidature has been rejected as he does not know how to read and write Odia. Besides, a visually challenged candidate cannot cope with a highly demanding post like that of a Sarpanch, who sometime handles funds to the tune of ₹1 crore.”
“The job of Sarpanch has become multi-tasking. They have to deal with hundreds of applications seeking houses, pensions and other benefits under different government schemes. They will in all likelihood face problems in grievance redressal,” Mr. Naik added.
The Returning Officer advised Mr. Sabar to find legal remedies to restore his candidature.
Social activists working in the disability sector are, however, not convinced by the argument. “When physically challenged persons are getting reservations in jobs and education, why can the same not be extended to them in fighting elections? An important branch of governance remains unrepresented by visually challenged persons. The government has also not developed a mechanism to accommodate visually challenged candidates,” lamented Niranjan Behera, president, Odisha Bikalang Manch, a forum for persons with disabilities (PwD).
“The Naveen Patnaik government has reserved 50% of seats in Panchayati Raj institutions for women in order to bring them at par with their male counterparts. Visually challenged people are also not an empowered section. They need societal support to be mainstreamed,” Mr. Behera pointed out.
The forum said all political parties must come up with reservation for PwD candidates before facilitating a Constitutional arrangement.