By Soumya Raj:
The Indian ideology of justice is a view from the top. Whatever rights a person has or can have, or is deemed capable of having, depends on the judgement of the authorities and not the needs of the people. This power-centric assessment of the people’s needs gives rise to various disheartening incidents from time to time, across the nation.
Last night, while a group of disabled people assembled outside the Congress Working Committee office protested peacefully, mind you, against the issuance of the ordinance of the Rights of People’s With Disabilities Act, they were lathi charged heartlessly. Twenty of them are gravely injured, some of them required surgery and one, a former Paralympic, may lose his remaining vision as well. The media has not deemed this incident worthy to be covered thoroughly or this matter brought to light, nor is the whole debate regarding the issuance of the RPWD Act getting the required attention. Our country is no place for the disabled, for we, as a society, have tried to avoid acknowledging the problems they encounter in their day to day lives as much as possible, this was sort of expected.
The group was protesting against the passing of the bill through ordinance, which does not cater to their needs and lacks the sensitivity that the rights of the people with disability should be granted. The PWD Act (1995), which is currently in force, lists seven disabilities; blindness, low vision, hearing impairment, locomotor disability, mental illness, mental retardation and leprosy, to define a person as disabled if he/she has 40% or above of the enumerated disabilities. Although the RPWD has extended the “benchmark disabilities” from 7 to 18, it has not gotten rid of this clause, and this is extremely problematic since it is difficult to define a person as having 40 per cent or more of a certain kind of disability.
The new RPWD bill has been constructed in haste, and while adding a few more forms of disabilities to it, has also jeopardized the state of those disabled people who are already certified under the 1995 PWD Act, and would require re-certification as the previous certificate of disability issued to them under the 1995 Act would hold little to no meaning in the bureaucracies and offices.
Another problem which we might face is that since the disabilities have been contained in crisp definitions, as medical science develops and new disabilities of other kinds are discovered, the RPWD would require a change frequently and stir up another cycle of whatever is happening currently.
The RPWD does not see disability from a social perspective, but only from a medical and legal perspective. Employment is one of the main ways in order to enable the disabled people to participate in the society as much as possible. The RPWD was required to have 5 per cent reservation for jobs in both public and private sectors. The earlier Act had the reservation in public sector of up to 3 per cent, which was already not being implemented justly. The RPWD does not mention the private establishment reservations, and has only increased the job reservation in the government sector from 3 percent to 5 percent.
The loopholes in the Rights to Peoples with Disabilities Act hardly satisfy the amount of understanding that it should have. It does not empower them in many forms, and is not a very effective improvisation of the earlier PWD Act 1995. Not only is it structurally faulty, but it also reeks of negligence. The police and the media responses which were heartless and nil respectively to this issue, have not been very comforting either.