The disabled march for their rights

Published : November 26, 2019 13:01 IST

Persons with disability at a rally in New Delhi on November 25 at the end of a month-long campaign led by the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled. Photo: Divya Trivedi

At the rally led by the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled in New Delhi on November 25. Photo: Divya Trivedi

Three years after the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (RPD) was passed, the disabled are still campaigning for its implementation. “Please don't call us divyang, we don't need your charity. Kindly implement the Act,” said Faraz Khan from Aastha, an organisation that works in the slums of Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, in a much publicised move, replaced the term viklang (disabled) with divyang (one with extraordinary abilities) for official use. Several disabled people had criticised the coinage of the new term. In their opinion, it was a regressive shift from a language of rights and empowerment to that of charity and welfare.

Echoing Faraz, Rajendra Prasad Das, from Haldia in West Bengal said the disabled were not begging but simply asking for their rights. One hundred disabled persons travelled with him from Haldia and many more came from other parts of the country demanding the implementation of the Act. The month-long campaign led by the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) culminated at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on November 25.

Susheel Kumar, Jayveer and Sandeep from Hissar in Haryana pointed out the myriad problems associated with the following: issuance of disability certificates, denial of reservation in employment to new categories of disabilities, delay in updating and publishing of the list of identified posts for employment, educational system not being inclusive, and non-implementation of the mandated 5 per cent reservation in institutions of higher education.

A day before the culmination of the march, the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities issued government orders (G.Os) and wrote to all States and Union territories. The department conceded that most of the States and Union territories had yet to take concrete steps to implement all the provisions of the Act and asked them to prepare an action taken report by December 15 addressing the following issues: issuance of disability certificates and UDID (Unique Disability ID) cards in a time-bound manner, making education inclusive, providing support to women with disability for livelihood, enhancing the quantum of disability pension, and providing care-giver allowance. It also advised States to “consider making policy decision to provide reservation for PwDs or nomination of PwDs in urban/local bodies”.

The department issued a G.O. conceding that the provisions of the Act and the instructions of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) were yet to be implemented by all Ministries and departments with regard to the provision of 4 per cent reservation in employment. It also requested the DoPT to issue instructions to conduct special recruitment drives to fill up the backlog and also look into the issue of reservation in promotions for PwDs.

In another G.O. it asked the Finance Services and Insurance Regulatory Development Authority to “issue appropriate instructions to all insurance companies to ensure that PwDs are given insurance cover on equal terms and conditions”, a long-standing demand of disability rights organisations.

However, the government had not made any commitment on enhancing budgetary allocations for the implementation of the Act, had not accepted the demand to repeal Section 3(3) of the RPD Act that legitimises discrimination or amend Article 15(1) and 16(2) of the Constitution to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of disability, Muralidharan, general secretary of the NPRD, said. The government had also not accepted the demand for extending reservation in employment to the private sector.

“It may be that the pressure built by disabled persons forced the government to issue the G.O.s. Nevertheless, our march is not a protest, it is a victory. We will wait till December 15 and see what happens and then carry forward our struggle and movement,” said Muralidharan.

A contingent from the Kutch Divyang Sangh in Gujarat wondered why a disabled person got only Rs.650 a month as disability pension in Gujarat, when the Telangana government could earmark Rs.3,016 a month? “Our CM became PM but nothing has changed for us. The Gujarat government and the Telangana government view the issue of disability through separate lens, which is why one of the largest districts of India, Bhuj, has no facilities for its disabled. They call us divyang because they want us to remain pitiful,” said Lalji Suranji of the Sangh, illustrating their myriad problems in Gujarat.

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