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Best way to remember Javed Abidi is by fighting for our ‘adhikaar’: Nipun Malhotra

Javed Abidi’s biggest contribution towards persons with disabilities was undoubtedly the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. Under his stewardship, the disabled community got a new act, recognised disabilities increased from seven to 21 and the private sector was brought under the act’s gambit.

opinion Updated: Mar 04, 2018 23:38 IST
Javed Abidi,Persons with Disabilities,Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Disability rights activist Javed Abidi passed away on Sunday after succumbing to chest infection. He was 53.

Javed Abidi, an aspiring journalist and a journalism and communications graduate from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio had a chance encounter with Sonia Gandhi in December 1991. Mrs Gandhi was in the process of setting up the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF) and offered him the opportunity to head the foundation’s disabilities unit.

The offer led to a not-so-easy dilemma for Mr Abidi. He had always aspired to be a journalist and was just starting to find his feet in the profession. However, after introspection he concluded that journalism won’t be affected if one person leaves it but a dynamic leader could help empower Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) across the country. There was no looking back for him.

His first battle was what eventually became the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) Act, 1995. For the first time in India, PwDs had legal rights and protections as mandated by the law. Fighting for the implementation of the act, he came across the many fissures that existed within the disability sector.

In 1996, he branched out of the RGF to launch the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), India’s first cross disability organisation. A man ahead of his times, Mr Abidi set up the Helen Kellar Awards to recognise and reward organisations in the private sector that employed PwDs. He also set up the Universal Design Awards to encourage accessible design. He was the godfather to many young disability activists who were brought together from all over the country through NCPEDPs ‘National Convention of Youth with Disabilities’ and educated about their movement’s history and the battles they would have to face in taking it forward.

Prior to the 2001 census, Mr Abidi organised a large number of street protests that succeeded in the inclusion of PwDs in the census.

In 2004, his letter to the Chief Justice of India seeking to make polling booths accessible to PwDs was converted into a writ petition. The petition led to the court passing historic directions to make the electoral process accessible. He went on to contest an election, which he might have lost, but he did succeed in making the country take notice of the cause and needs of PwDs.

Mr Abidi’s biggest contribution towards PwDs was undoubtedly the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. Under his stewardship, the disabled community got a new act, recognised disabilities increased from seven to 21 and the private sector was brought under the act’s gambit. However, one year on, Mr Abidi wasn’t satisfied. He was concerned about the act’s implementation and announced last month the launch of ten seminars across ten states to educate India’s disabled population about their rights.

His last retweet was an NCPEDP post, stating: “Kannada translation of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 released today! Our efforts to take the law to the people continues...”

It was during an episode of TV show Satyamev Jayate that Mr Abidi said: “Jo adhikaar baaki sab ko haasil hai — school jaane ka, naukri ka, cinema mein film dekhne ka — wohi adhikaar mera hai” (The rights that everyone has—going to school, having a job, watching a film in theatre — are mine too.)

I am sure that the best way to remember his great life would be by fighting for our adhikaar – one for an equal opportunity India for PwDs.

(The writer is a wheelchair user and founder, Wheels For Life and CEO, Nipman Foundation)

First Published: Mar 04, 2018 23:06 IST