India on Thursday decided to sign an international treaty that can change its worldview of the disabled but distanced itself from an optional protocol that would have allowed individuals and groups to petition a United Nations committee against violations.
The decision to sign the treaty on protecting persons with disabilities was taken at the meeting of the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Cabinet also gave its approval to another agreement to protect another vulnerable section: Indian workers in Kuwait.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi said the approval was for signing and ratifying the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities excluding the Optional Protocol.
An 18-para optional protocol on communications would have allowed petitioning by individuals and groups to a committee of experts on alleged violations of their rights. The protocol, however, allowed petitions to be filed only after all national recourse procedures had been exhausted.
Disabled rights activists like Javed Abidi expect the convention to guide the government in formulation of its policy and legal framework, shifting the emphasis on medical rehabilitation to social rehabilitation.
A proposal to amend India’s disability law has been in the offing for about a year; it had been put on hold last year at the insistence of rights activists who were waiting for the convention to be finalised.
The convention – firmed up last August after negotiations running into five years – includes persons with long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments in its definition of persons with disabilities.
Once the Indian law is brought in line with the convention, a larger number of people suffering from hitherto unrecognised kinds of disabilities in India – like autism and haemophilia – to be covered by the law.
Dasmunsi said the memorandum of understanding with Kuwait would mitigate the problems of Indian workers. A similar agreement with UAE has already been signed.
Besides facilitating recruitment, the MoU restricts employers in Kuwait to change the terms and conditions of the contract of employment, makes the employer responsible for work permit for the Indian employee and lays down a procedure to get the employment contract authenticated.