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For the differently abled, India is still inaccessible

14 months after the passing of the Right of Persons with Disabilities Bill, most states are yet to frame the draft rights

analysis Updated: Mar 06, 2018 18:12 IST
Disability,Right of Persons with Disabilities Bill,Javed Abidi
Disabled students at a job fair in Chandigarh. The World Bank estimates that 15% of the world’s population is affected by one disability or another. According to the 2011 Census, the number of disabled in India stands at 2.68 crore, or 2.21 per cent of the population.(Karun Sharma/Hindustan Times)

The death of the disability activist, Javed Abidi, may be an appropriate time to assess whether the ground reality is improving for the millions of physically challenged in the country. A wheelchair user, Abidi was a champion of employment and accessibility for disabled people and one of the moving forces behind the enactment of the Right of Persons with Disabilities Bill in 2016. Approved by the Parliament in December, 2016, the Bill provided for imprisonment up to two years, along with a fine between Rs 10,000 and Rs 5 lakh for discriminating against the differently abled. It also increased the number of recognised disabilities from 7 to 21, including, for the first time, disability due to acid attacks and Parkinson’s.

The World Bank estimates that 15% of the world’s population is affected by one disability or another. According to the 2011 Census, the number of disabled in India stands at 2.68 crore, or 2.21% of the population.

At the time it was approved, the disability law was hailed as a progressive piece of legislation. It gave hope to those suffering from conditions like thalassemia, haemophilia, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and learning disabilities, says disability rights advocate Nipun Malhotra. “Apart from making the disabled in these categories eligible for State benefits and employment, it gave the community the belief that they now had legal backing to make their voices heard.” But more than a year after it was passed, the benefits of the Act haven’t begun to affect people’s lives, yet. Most states — barring Delhi, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal — haven’t even framed draft rights yet.
Still, the legislation appears to be giving the disabled the confidence to take on the odds, in case they are discriminated against. In Jharkhand, for instance, when a three-year-old girl with locomoter disability was refused admission by a school, her parents went to the media. They alleged that the principal had made fun of the family and turned them away. It took the intervention of chief minister Raghubar Das and a campaign on social media to make the authorities admit the girl to Dhanbad’s De Nobili School. Thalassemia patient Sruchi Rathore of Chhattisgarh wasn’t as fortunate. When she was denied admission to a medical college in August 2017 , the Supreme Court had to step in: “It is the duty of every institution to extend a helping hand to disabled persons,” ruled a bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and A M Khanwilkar, as it asked the medical board to assess whether her disability qualified for the seat.

Delhi-based disabled rights activist Satendra Singh says one commendable provision of the new Act is mandatory training of judges and lawyers regarding disability. Also, unlike in the past, when matters related to the physically challenged had to be heard by a disability commissioner at the state or central level, there is a provision for the constitution of a bench in every district to exclusively listen to cases pertaining to the Disability Act.

Still, despite the government’s plans to make at least 50% of government buildings and at least 25% of public transport disabled-friendly as part of the Accessible India Campaign, our buildings and transport continue to be oblivious to the needs of disabled people. So inaccessible are India’s sports venues that a makeshift wooden ramp had to be created at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium to ensure Sachin Tendulkar’s wheelchair-bound mother could watch him play in his farewell Test. Bus stops and traffic crossings, even in big cities, are no better. In 2017, Nipun Malhotra was compelled to file a PIL against the Delhi government’s plan to order 2,000 standard floor buses, unlike the low-floor buses which are easier to board for the elderly and the disabled. Even as accessibility is a built-in feature for the metro, most passenger trains continue to remain inaccessible.

On March 6, disability activists from across the country are converging in New Delhi and marching to the Parliament to protest the inaccessibility of our railways. If he were alive, his friends and colleagues would have expected Javed Abidi to be leading the march. His death has left a void. Unfortunately, even the causes that Abidi fought for in his lifetime — lack of access and jobs for the disabled — are far from being realised.


First Published: Mar 06, 2018 17:58 IST