In our pursuit of equal rights for those with disabilities, year 2016 is a landmark year in India. First, this year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the passing of the Persons with Disabilities Act (PwD Act 1995 got Presidential assent in 2016) – a landmark legislation that for the first time talked about protecting the rights of those with disabilities, providing equal opportunities and their full participation. Secondly, the Action 2030 for Sustainable Development were decided on by agreement of Heads of State and Government and High Representatives at United Nations. These goals are directed towards eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, for sustainable development. The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to guide development until 2030, feature disability clearly, whereas MDGs were silent on disability concerns. Four goals, and one on data, Goal 4 (Education), Goal 8 (Employment), Goal 10 (Reduce inequality), Goal 11 (Inclusive cities) and Goal 17 (data) refer to disability and ‘vulnerable’ includes us in its definition.
We are visible, we are included and we are considered one of the important categories of people to not to be left out in development process. Yet, in India and Odisha, while government policy, legislative actions, schemes and provisions for the disabled give the impression of a state and country that is committed to human rights and equal opportunities, ground reality is quite different.
Full participation and equality of opportunity for persons with disability, especially in the field of health, education and employment, is still a distant dream. The social and physical environment is still designed without considering the special needs of persons with disabilities. Physical obstacles and social barriers prevent us from participating in community and social life. Not much has been done to create awareness about disability across the country. Most people continue to believe that disability is either an irremediable medical condition or an act of fate. In both cases the onus of care must rest with the family of the disabled and not on the community. The legal definitions (Persons with Disability Act 1995) view disability strictly from the medical and/or psychometric perspective. This ends up reinforcing a medical model of intervention rather than the much-needed rights based approach. Various schemes have been offered for the welfare of the disabled population, but lack of adequate information about them ensures that stakeholders – persons with disabilities, their families and organisations that work for them - are either unaware or cannot avail of the provisions therein.
The Rights of Persons with disabilities Bill 2014 is a landmark in moving towards creating a better environment for persons with disabilities and will go a long way in enhancing their quality of life by way of ensuring that they enjoy all rights and liberties as citizens of a democracy. It will replace the Persons with Disability Act 1995 which, among its many demerits, promised creation of facilities in almost all areas pertaining to disability but lost teeth by the phrase ‘appropriate authorities' are directed to ‘endeavour' or ‘promote' integration (of persons with disabilities) ‘within the limits of their economic capacity and development.’ Though the process od drafting new law started in 2009 it is yet to made a law of the land. This law in alignment with UNCRPD, RTE Act and the SDGs will reduce the gap between persons with disabilities and mainstream society in a very significant manner.
Apart from legislation, attitudes are the second great obstacle to inclusion and participation of the disabled. Most Indians view disability as matter of charity rather than a human rights issue. The charity perspective, while ensuring care and tolerance, promotes dependency among the disabled. The charity perspective also reinforces the belief that decisions regarding the nature, amount and recipient of charity should lie with the donor. This needs to change, not in paper, but in ground, to strengthen the disability movement and empower persons with disabilities. In a country like India, it means that various departments of the government, such as education, health, transport, building works and employment, work in conjunction. It also means that we must listen to the voice of people who have been on the margins, and bring them into the mainstream.
Let us celebrate the courage and commitment of those who have brought us to this point. And let us we recommit ourselves to building a society free of unnecessary barriers and full of the deeper understanding of “sarve bhawantu sukhinah.”
OM sarve bhavantu sukhinah
sarve santu niraamayaah
sarve bhadraaNi pashyantu
ma kashcid duhkhabhaagbhavet
OM shaantih shaantih shaantih
May all be happy.
May all be healthy.
May all enjoy prosperity.
May none suffer.
OM Peace Peace Peace.