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Why 2.68 Crore Indians Are Still Denied Basic Rights Despite An Act Meant To Empower Them

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“A human being is a magnificent creation of the creator and that magnificence should be exposed in a humane, magnanimous and all-inclusive manner so that all tend to feel that they have their deserved space” – Supreme Court observation in the Pranay Kumar Podder vs State of Tripura and Others case in 2017.

There is potential progress on the horizon, as ‘inclusion’, ‘integration’ (and phrases that define the essences of these words) are being discussed zealously. However, what portends horror is that these are still matters of choice, instead of being brought to practice.

Policy makers say, ‘let’s change the rules’, while activists shout ‘let’s change the mindset’. Politicians say, ‘let’s treat them as divine’, while the courts say ‘let’s be magnanimous’. Civil society says ‘let’s earn favours from god’. All this ‘haggling’ is for the purpose of accepting the ‘other’ – the ‘other’ which is not identified, but is made conspicuous, when people identify themselves as ‘able’, ‘complete’, ‘blessed’, etc.

Though the term hasn’t been convincingly conceptualised, people with disabilities have regretfully become the ‘foil’ that bolsters the design that defines a ‘fully-functional’ human being. Consequently, this has made them second-class citizens in the eyes of the public. Furthermore, their rights and necessities have to be spelt out by invoking sections of rule-books, that are futile when it comes to executing the ideals of ‘equity’, ‘equality’ and ‘justice’.

How far can a booklet of law make a difference? Will rights mean acceptance? How much can a list of provisions do to redeem the rights and the respect of the 2.68 crore persons with disabilities in India?

More importantly, will such an outcry lead to ‘inclusion’ and ‘universality’?

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 was passed by Indian lawmakers at the end of a forgettable winter session in the Parliament, which was inundated by the torrent of acrimony, post-demonetisation.

However, the Act was cheered by many as it increased the number of identified disabilities from seven to 21, and the employment reservation to not less than 4%. It spoke of inclusive education and penalties for offences against persons with disabilities (PWDs). The Act also specifies provisions for special courts (to speed up the trial of cases of said offences), a national fund and a state fund for persons with disabilities.

The Act has been acknowledged by experts for espousing the progress of Indian people with disabilities, and for its noteworthy shift from a ‘concessional model’ to a ‘social one’. In fact, the inclusion of acid-attack victims and people with learning disabilities, Parkinson’s disease, blood disorders, speech and language disabilities (among others) under its ambit is a perfect example of the inclusive undertone sustained throughout the Act.

The emphases on reasonable accommodation, accessibility, inclusive education, employment security, research and surveys, proactive measures to contain the issue of disability, protection against violence, legal guardianship, rights to appeal, etc. are certainly commendable provisions.

However, even though they look attractive and empowering on paper, they carry ambiguities that can be twisted and distorted to meet selfish interests.

For instance, recurring clauses like ‘within the limit of their economic capacity and development’, ‘without imposing a disproportionate or undue burden’, ‘the extension of time depending on their state of preparedness and other related parameters’, ‘cannot be discriminated on the ground of disability, unless it is shown that the impugned act or omission is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’ all leave ample room for denial of justice.

Consequently, the goal of empowerment may well remain elusive and reliant on the interests of the persons without a disability. Many new appointments and the strengthening of offices, which have been promised in the Act, are also devoid of the aim of providing absolute justice.

There also seems to be no authority that can try an accused or pass a verdict. In cases of violence, the executive magistrate is to be sought. Employment-related discrimination can be reported to a grievance redressal officer, and there is a liaison officer to check on recruitment issues. All these remain under the purview of the chief commissioner.

All the concerns of the people with disabilities haven’t been addressed by the 2016 Act.

Another glaring and minimally-covered area is the magnitude of power exercised by private establishments.

At first glance, the private sector seems to be under the surveillance of the Act. However, except in certain contexts – like barrier-free access at private hospitals and among service-providers, or providing incentives in the case of employment, in which at least 5% of the workforce is made up of or reserved for persons with disabilities and an equal opportunity policy – the Act seems hardly persuasive.

This is evident from the fact that the revised draft rules that came out on March 10, 2017, did not mention the private establishment in the chapter on equal opportunity policy. However, in the original set of rules, that came out on March 3, 2017, an exclusive framework for the private sector had been included.

The authority that the Act wields on the private sector is therefore, highly limited. Similarly, one can disagree with many other provisions of this Act. Some of these debatable provisions are liable to failures, while the others can be countered or overthrown by twisted arguments.

Moreover, it is hardly airtight when it comes to ‘cross-examination’ and thus, can’t be maneuvered easily by a person with disability.

Sure, the Act aims for progress and inclusion. However, it falls severely short on the vision to acknowledge and empower persons with disabilities, so that they can sail through the challenges themselves.

When the bourgeoisie took control of the society – visibly, for the first time in history post the revolutions in the period from 1789 to 1848 – it was believed that they would not only bring about material prosperity, but also reason, human opportunities, enlightenment, science and the arts.

In a nutshell, a world of accelerating material and moral progress was the vision, back then. But what has come of the attempts to fulfill it, since then, is simply ‘survival of the fittest’ – with the ‘fittest’ having connotations ranging from ignorance to moral depravity.

In such a world where opportunities are the ‘charity of the fittest’, ‘vision’ is a strong, and perhaps, an abstract word.

Even if the ‘vision’ is deciphered or fulfilled, it will not disturb the guaranteed social order or threaten the existence of those who created it in the first place. All we can hope for is a future that will be magnanimous.

The article was first published here. It has been published on Youth Ki Awaaz with the author’s permission.


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        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

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        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

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        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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