Disabled by lack of political will

Matter of Concern

Some of us do halt for a second and feel a twinge of sadness when we see a person using crutches, trying to navigate his way around. A few kind-hearted even extend a helping hand but this begs a question – how much longer must the specially-abled or physically challenged be allowed to remain dependent
on others?

The question haunts the mind as the news flashes that the Disability Rights Bill failed to pass muster in the recently concluded session of Parliament. “At the last minute the political parties, especially the Opposition and the Left, backed out,” rues Javed Abidi, convenor, Disability Rights Group (DRG).

Activists like him are heart broken, for their hard work of almost five years has come to naught. “Eighteen million hearing impaired Indians will continue to suffer if Disability Rights Bill doesn’t become a law because sign language will not be promoted or recognised,” informs AS Narayanan, secretary, National Association Of The Deaf.
The number might sound alarmingly high but this is the bitter truth.

“The disabled population is the biggest ‘invisible’ minority and is approximately 18-20 crores,” says Prof Ramanujam from the Distance Education department of IGNOU. He doesn’t shy away from mentioning that “the disabled are not a priority for any of the political parties because they are not a vote bank. If the disabled are qualified, they act as a potential threat. I have been discriminated against in my own organisation, barring a few occasions,” says the educationist who is himself wheelchair-bound. 

His story sounds familiar to many of those who face difficulty in mobility. One might not have given it much thought, but even the lack of a special toilet seat can be a cause of major concern for a disabled person. Moreover, there is a visible lack in provision of education to the disabled. Though the amendments was made in 1997 in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, they have failed to have much impact and there are only a handful of  special schools for the disabled. Worse, mainstream schools are reluctant to grant admission to students with special needs.

Considering the special needs of persons with different disabilities, the Disability Rights Bill was being looked upon by many as a boon. “We cannot get attention of the police by damaging public property like the Dalits or other minorities. Organising a protest is much more difficult for us since reaching a specific venue requires extra effort. Even to reach the Metro we need a transport and an attendant,” adds Prof Ramanujam.          
                                      
“When the Bill for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act got stuck, we decided to organise a protest march but later thought of carrying out a ‘Solidarity March’ instead. We thanked the politicians who supported us in helping the Bill reach Parliament. Ironically, soon after that, it got passed in a matter of 16 minutes in both the Houses,” informs Vikram Dutt, president of Manovikas Charitable Society and a disability rights activist. Vikram has a serious spinal injury and feels that even such positive protests, like the solidarity march, can have a positive impact. 

While the activists resign themselves to the fact that the Bill will take another two years to pass due to elections, they feel that the issue needs to be made political. They feel that the general public too should strongly raise the demand for political empowerment of the disabled. Probably it is only then that we would be able to help the disabled in the real sense, rather than merely doing lip-service!

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