ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Disabled by Lack of Political Will

The government’s failure to table the Disabilities Bill in Parliament is unforgivable.

For the estimated 70 million disabled people in India, the government’s failure to table the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill in Parliament in the winter session was another act of cruel neglect and one that their representative organisations are gearing up to tackle. For the four years that it took for the bill to be drafted, disability rights’ advocacy groups and activists kept the pressure up. The approval of the draft bill by the union cabinet on 12 December 2013 raised their hopes only to be dashed. With general elections looming ahead and the uncertainty of how much legislative business will be conducted at the next session, these activists fear that their efforts would simply be washed away. Protests and agitations were held to demand that the bill should be taken up in the February session even as the disabled bitterly pointed out that politicians do not seem to count them as a valued vote bank.

The disabled in India are “invisible”, not to politicians alone; society at large disregards the disabled. Since they do not easily fit into the sociocultural expectations of what “normal” men and women should be like, the disabled are either to be pitied and dealt with charitably or shunned and ignored. To a certain extent, this attitude was challenged by the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 which was considered landmark legislation at the time. However, while this Act did go a small distance in ensuring greater acceptance of the rights of the disabled to employment, not only its implementation but also its scope left much to be desired. It relies too much on the state’s initiative in framing schemes for the disabled while emphasising their vulnerabilities rather than on enhancing their capabilities. It also leans heavily towards the medical approach, emphasising the physical disabilities and tending to view welfare measures as the solution. It is a familiar experience that most government schemes aimed at a particular section of society suffer from lack of coordination and dovetailing of the efforts of the various agencies at work. Another area that needs attention is the one to do with the socio-economic vulnerabilities of the parents/guardians/caregivers of the disabled.

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