On December 15, 2016, Parliament passed the Right of Person with Disability Bill 2016, which is set to replace the existing The Person with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 after 21 years of its enactment. This is new bill is looked as a move to assist the Disability Movement in the country. It is a matter to be seen in the future and any articulation regarding this would ask us several questions. The important ones, which every disability activists has kept asking the civil society. I have tried to put my view and contemplate on the issue as a person who is working in the field of disability rights for more than 5 months and has seen the situation very closely.
It is a radical step in recent times for getting to the concerns of one of the most marginalised section of the Indian society, the persons with disability.
The main issue that this bill addresses is its farsightedness towards inclusion and formalising the education for the children with disability. Children are a major part of Indian demographic dividend. Disability is defined in such a manner that children and ageing population becomes the biggest beneficiary as well the most vulnerable to the discrimination. Children are prone to disability whereas adults are prone to disablement. Disability and Disablement are sometimes read together and explained together, but they are different concepts and disablement leads to disability. This new bill also covers disablements. There are other major highlights of the bill, most of the people are writing on the increase in the proportion of reserved positions in public employment and incentives for the private sector to hire disabled candidates. These are some crucial steps and must be appreciated. There are more customary concerns than Statutory in the execution of any Disability Law. The prejudices and biases regarding disability limit the execution.
More Medical, Mid Legal and Less Social
Disability is seen as a medical condition and several people understand it as a disease. Coming from my own experience, I know many people who think mental Illness is a disease. It is not, it ought to be not. Mental illness is a condition, a behavioural problem but not a disease. One of my close relative thinks his child with a mental disability who is about 19 years old now, can be cured by surgery. The genesis of such thoughts is the outlook of our society towards normalising the conditions.
The cultural, educational and social normalcy leads to discrimination and Disability, or say different ability is considered to be an abnormality. This bill is about legalising the abnormality. A person at any given day is more important than her/his condition. It sketches a line on medicalising the condition of Person with Disability. Some disabilities like Hearing or Visual Impairment are about senses. The consolidation of senses is important for learning. Losing a Sense and as important as Eye, which is about seeing hinders the learning ability. This is why sensory Training is done as a part of Rehabilitation of Person with Disability. It can be understood in the case of loss of vision. It becomes important to make other senses as active as to contribute the part of vision and keep learning to the level of 100%. This is why sensory training is done. Other senses are stimulated and made active in this training, emphasise is put on hearing and touch the most. Among the 8 senses also there are two further classification of senses like Near Senses (Touch, Smell, Vestibular, Taste and Kinaesthetic) and Far Senses (Vision and Hearing). Vision is a social act, it includes the perspective, it includes the mental biases, thus normalising means socialising. Disability is about rising above the Society, but not divine, extra ordinary.
No DIVYANG! Please..
In one of his many ‘Man Ki Baat’, Prime Minister Modi, proclaimed that Persons with Disability ought to be called as ‘Divyang Jan’ (People with Divine Organ). He must be very proud in proclaiming that but it makes no sense in saying this. There’s no divinity about Disability, There’s no special about Disability. Why will it be? Why should it be? It is a simple statement of discrimination. He doesn’t view it for the paradigm shift. Will calling them Divvying enable them making most from the environment which is deeply discriminating. It is important to make a change in the environment and societal view than the nomenclature of persons with disability. There should be ‘Person First’ approach from the government and society as a whole than the condition first. Also, Mental Retardation doesn’t belong to a particular organ, so what that will be called? There are more divinity in the society to be traced, better the government along with their leader looks after that.
Education and Emancipation; Can it happen?
Most of my experiences come from the field of education. This society has seen a long history of interventions in the field of Disability. From charity to welfare to empowerment and now emancipation. In each of these stages, what has been evident that they have come in a ‘Top-Down Approach’. There have been very less ‘Need Assessment’ from the Persons actually in the need. As several parliamentarians have pointed out about the irregularities by the Non-Government Organisations working in the field of disability. Most of these organisations work for the rehabilitation and inclusion of Persons with Disability, there are also some Civil Society Organisations which advocates for the rights. The lack of epistemological understanding of these organisations, and their failure in making society aware has raised the concerns. The emancipatory approach has found no space in the society yet. The main beneficiary of such organisation are from the Upper class. The provision of Penalising in the new bill is important in facing such irregularities. It is also important before that too understand the approach of such organisations. If they are working for Education, they need to assess whether it will lead to emancipation? Education and emancipation has very close relationship. There are 3 important kinds of education; Integrated Education, Special Education and Inclusive Education. Special Education Classes refer to providing education as per need of children with disability. It is the class having personal attention and care. Integrated education is the merger of special and regular classes in a common setup. Whereas Inclusive education refers to the accommodation of children with disability in regular school setup with support service. It is the inclusion which will make a way for the emancipation. Is Indian Education system ready for Inclusive Education? The answer is No. As a system for education, we are not ready to accommodate the children with disability in the inclusive setup. Emancipation at this level looks a distant dream. Accessible India aims at making environment specially public spaces accessible but it needs huge amount of homework before even planning for anything. There needs to be a complete Paradigm Shift which also should originate to end exploitation. Is India ready? Is India ready to educate everyone?
New Bill, Old Hopes
This new bill is seen as a paradigm shift. Actually, it is not. There’s much more than definition and services to the field of Disability. The biggest need of hour is to create a barrier free environment, it includes both infrastructure and social transformation. Infrastructures can be built but there should be a change in the Societal view, and it can’t happen without a Disability Movement. As per 2011 Census more than 3% of India’s population includes Persons with Disability and after the commencement of new bill, it will possibly go upto 7% as it has also included 14 more types of Disabilities in the definition. It is a big number. The social stratification along with disability together will need a lot from succeeding governments in the execution of this Bill which will become an Act after the accent of President. Education, Employment and Full Participation has been taken care as of now and the next important thing is to create literature on the issue, which should come from Persons with disability. Also, Judicial Medicalisation of Disability should be stopped in the Litigations regarding issues concerning Persons with Disability. The integration and mainstreaming has been a long discussed matters and it is the time to come together to be an adherent to the issue.
This is a good time to congratulate the Persons who have at least been considered in the times of Economic Distress and Parliamentary failures.