‘Disability’ Is Treated As ‘Inability’: The Politics Of Reservation In India

Posted on August 23, 2016 in Disability Rights, Society

By Martand Jha:

Reservation has always been a highly contested subject in India. The binaries between ‘reserved’ vs ‘deserved’ are created to show a picture where meritorious students are not picked and instead those with less merit get picked on the basis of reservation. The fight is put between the unreserved category candidates and those who come under SC/ST and OBC category.

But there is an another category which cuts across the two sides is Persons with Disability (PwD) who are entitled to get 3% reservation as per the Pwd Act 1995. This reservation is called ‘horizontal reservation’ because anyone from any category can be a person with disabilities. Seats in various government services are identified as per the physical requirements of a candidate required for that particular job.

This means that even if a person with disabilities qualifies an exam, he/she may not be picked if they don’t possess physical requirements needed for the job. Many candidates have and are still suffering as they don’t get their appointments after clearing competitive exams conducted by UPSC, SSC and various State Public Service Commissions. Many of these people have to go and fight their cases in the courts for their rights.

One good example of this was that of Ira Singhal, who topped the UPSC exam under unreserved category so that she couldn’t be denied her rightful post just because of her disability. In fact, she was fighting her case in courts for her earlier UPSC attempts in which she scored qualifying marks but was denied an appointment due to her disability.

This is just one example which came into limelight because she topped the exam from the general category in 2015. If every person with disabilities has to give their exam from the general category in order to be even considered for the job, then what’s the point of having reservations? The whole history of differently-abled people getting a government job and a seat in government educational institutions is filled with an immense amount of struggle.

The society which includes our policy makers, examiners, interviewers and bureaucracy understand ‘disability’ as ‘inability’. Because of their messed up understanding of these two entirely different concepts, justice, many a times, has not been served. In an RTI filed last year, it was found that over 14 thousand vacancies earmarked for the people with disabilities, were left unfulfilled since the inception of PwD Act, 1995.

This huge backlog of vacancies was tried to be cleared out through a special recruitment drive conducted by Government of India. This was after getting orders from the higher judiciary and much media uproar that this step had to be taken. It’s true that this step to fill the huge backlog in just one year must have helped many candidates with disabilities, but what about the injustice done in the past 20 years where differently abled candidates were rejected on the basis of their disability.

A whole generation of people suffered at the hands of the system due to the unjust attitude of the system and society because of their disabilities. One couldn’t help but think that do we need court orders and media uproar every time for reservation to be properly implemented and to clear backlog vacancies amounting to thousands.

Sadly, the answer seems to be in the affirmative. The system is always in need of uproar to take action, but that won’t count as justice. Secondly, the reason behind such huge backlog of vacancies is that the system wants to make sure that those who have applied from any particular category (especially differently-abled) should be picked from the seats reserved for them only. To cut the argument short, it is tried to ensure that no candidate who has applied from any other category can come from unreserved category.

If one argues that why he/she was picked from his/her categories reserved seat and not from unreserved category even after getting more marks than the cut-off required for unreserved category, the typical reply comes from the ‘sarkari babus’ is that, “Why do you care, you have got a seat, just be happy with that.”

This is sheer injustice. The point is not just about getting a seat, the point is about effective implementation of reservation because if a differently-abled candidate qualifies from general category, then he/she wouldn’t come from his/her category and another differently-abled candidate can come in that place from the Pwd Category seat.

Secondly, the question is how 3% reservation for candidates with disabilities is calculated. It seems as a simple mathematical problem when the total number of seats is more. For e.g. if there are 100 seats in total, then 3 seats out of 100 would be reserved for differently-abled candidates. But what about when less than 15 seats are in question, how does one calculate its 3% because it would not even amount to a single seat and as a result no differently-abled candidate is picked.

This is not an imaginary thing that I have put out here, this happens most of the time and since many government jobs and higher educational institutions come out with very few seats/vacancies, people with disabilities are outrightly denied even a single seat citing absurd mathematical problem leading to a huge backlog of vacancies.

The department of personnel and training (DoPT) says that 1st, 34th and 67th seat in every 100 seats is reserved for differently-abled candidates, one each for locomotor disability, visual disability and hearing disability. This is reiterated by the Supreme Court in Union of India Vs. National Federation of the Blind case, 2013 by reserving the point Nos. 1, 34 and 67 for Physically Handicapped candidates in the 100 point roster register.

This means even if less than 10 seats are advertised, the 1st seat belongs to the candidates with disabilities. This thing is not followed by many central government institutions including universities like JNU which pride itself in fighting for equal opportunities, citing the same mathematical reasons as listed above. Even high officials in the JNU administration don’t know about the 100 point roster register and the implementation of PwD reservation.

The current government’s policy of calling persons with disabilities as ‘Divyang’ and thereby getting huge appreciation of their supporters is not going to change anything fundamentally until and unless the government decides to fix these lacunae’s in the system. Till then, the struggle for equal opportunities, rights, and respect for differently-abled continues.


Image source: Hindustan Times/ Getty Images