In a culture that is known to discriminate on the basis of caste, colour and creed, the heart-rending plight of people like Rameshbhai Damar should not occasion surprise.
However, it’s still worth recounting the story of the 30-year-old, who was rescued from Gujarat’s Mahisagar district on Tuesday after he was chained by his family for 15 years because Mr Damar is mentally unstable.
While it is inhuman to do such a thing, it would be equally wrong to blame the family that was forced to do so in a country starved of adequate medical and rehabilitation facilities for the likes of Mr Damar or his family.
According to the 2011 Census, the country has 26.8 million differently-abled people, constituting 2.21% of the population of 1.21 billion. According to the census, this means people suffering from disability related to seeing, hearing, speech, movement, mental retardation, mental illness etc.
Despite such a large number of people suffering from different levels of disability, the country falls short when it comes to ensuring basic facilities for them. Ask a physically-disabled person, and they will tell you how difficult it is for them to navigate through Delhi’s streets. People’s insensitive attitudes towards disability may have improved a bit, but more still needs to be done.
The plight of the mentally disabled is even worse: There are only 43 government hospitals to cater to the estimated 70 million people living with psychosocial disabilities. For every 1 million people, there are only three psychiatrists, with a smaller number of psychologists. Only 25% of hospitals, clinics and mental health professionals are in rural areas.
Despite this, the government is yet to pass The Right of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014, which covers 19 conditions of disabilities. It includes conferring several rights and entitlements on disabled persons like disabled-friendly access in all public spaces and reservations in jobs and education for persons with at least 40% disabilities along with preference in government schemes.
It is said that the moral test of a government lies in how it “treats those in the dawn, twilight and in the shadows of life, i.e., the children, the elderly and the handicapped.”
On all these counts, India has been found wanting.