Towards a life of dignity and independence

Garimella Subramaniam  

It was the United Nations’ >International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, but with a difference in Delhi. The 2015 commemoration coincided with 20 years of the passage of the relevant law, The Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995 — the first-ever legal protection in post-independent India exclusively targeting people with various, though not all, impairments. Appropriately, the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), the country’s premier organisation for advocacy, marked the occasion with a consultation among stakeholders to take stock and strategise for the future.

The highlight of the Equality+20 conference was the release of the book, 20 Stories of Change,by Thaawar Chand Gehlot, Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE). The NCPEDP compilation catalogues the creative use of the current law by people with impairments and by their parents, from remote regions, to ensure that their disability was not held against them in the enjoyment of equal rights and opportunities. These are tales of dogged perseverance, either to secure a seat in a mainstream school, something middle-class Indians take for granted, or to halt a routine transfer of a working mother on reasonable and humane grounds of ensuring continuity in the rehabilitation services for a child with multiple disabilities.

A potent political weapon

Equally, the 1995 law has, in its two-decade history, proved a potent political weapon to effect fundamental changes at the macro level. The enumeration of disabilities in the decennial population census, for instance, became an irreversible reality only as recently as in the 2001 exercise. In the run-up to the countrywide operations on that occasion, the case to canvass disabilities was buttressed by the argument that translating the lofty goals enshrined in the law into reality was contingent upon ascertaining the number of people with impairments in the population. In more recent years, disabled people who qualify in the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examinations have been in the news; delays and discrepancies in the allotment of suitable positions thereafter is fast becoming a thing of the past.

The gradual transformation set in motion by the 1995 law has, if anything, raised hopes and expectations among the disabled for an even better life of dignity and relative freedom from dependency. That is the sense in which they viewed Mr. Gehlot’s reiteration during the release of the commemorative volume, of the Central government’s commitment to replace the existing law with a more robust legislation.

Such optimism was further reinforced when the Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, on behalf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, rolled out the Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan during the official function to mark the day for the disabled. The Accessible India initiative aims to achieve a barrier-free environment within a specific time frame in relation to the built structures, transportation and in the arena of information and communication technology.

The new Bill on disabilities

Implicit in these announcements was the assumption that Parliament in its winter session would take up the new Bill, a draft of which had already been forwarded to the Union Cabinet by the MSJE. Unfortunately, such hopes were belied and the focus has already shifted to the Budget session in February.

Ironically, it was in the Budget session two years back that the Disabilities Bill was originally referred by the previous government to a Standing Committee of the Rajya Sabha. It is another matter that the two United Progressive Alliance governments failed to enact the legislation, even though they deemed it fit to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities even before the ink had dried on that historic 2007 treaty.

The Bill finalised by the National Democratic Alliance government seeks to accord legal recognition to as many as 19 categories of disabilities, as opposed to just five under the current law. The vacancies sought to be reserved in education and employment is close to twice the current proportion. Above all, the incorporation of penal provisions is sure to lead to better enforcement. The next global observance of the day of disabilities will hopefully be a moment to celebrate this long-pending new legislation in India.


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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 11:44:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Towards-a-life-of-dignity-and-independence/article14010080.ece

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