Disability or Disabling Environment: Laws for Persons with Disabilities
From inadequacies in the laws of yore to challenging realities that cannot be dealt with by law alone, the author writes about the laws for the disabled in India
We do not use the word “handicapped” at present; “people with disability” or “persons with disability” is used in order to make the “person” come first and “disability” second
… I ran around as I played as a child,hopping and dancing with children in the neighbourhood. One day I realised that something was wrong; my family members and neighbours were not the same. Some were worried and some did not want to be with me. No play…. It seemed that everybody was looking at me differently. Later I realised that I had a disability! It was I that was not the same. I was treated differently… could not be as my friends were. What could change my situation? I got love, caring, soft approach and over-protection from one side…. But wait till you see what was on the other side – ignoring, rejection, unequal treatment…. What could change things? After many years I realised it was the LAW. That was what could make things happen. Equality, dignity, autonomy and liberty are the principles on which international human rights laws are premised. These values have sufficiently influenced the fundamental laws of democratic polity and are reflected in constitutions of most democratic states, including India. The Preamble to the Constitution of India, while giving a structure and philosophy of governance, clearly proclaims to – “… secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY, of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY, of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation….”
The Law Until 1987
Equality: Under the right to equality, the Constitution of India guarantees to all citizens equality before the law and equal protection of the law (Article 14); it prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them” (Articles 15 and 16). Non-Discrimination: The formal recognition of discrimination on the grounds of disability is a recent phenomenon. Laws enacted even 20 years ago generally did not include disability in the list of prohibited discriminations. For instance, the Constitution in Articles 15 and 16 prohibits discrimination in the matter of employment and access to public facilities on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex and place of birth, but is silent on disability. In fact, the service rules until 1995 prevented the entry of persons with disabilities into higher grades of service. These rules gave the employer the right to force premature retirement, citing public interest. Often employees who acquired disability during service were either forced out of the job or had their rank reduced. In most cases, career enhancement opportunities were suspended forever.
This was the only reference to persons with disabilities which existed in our statutes till 1987. In that same year, The Mental Health Act 1987 was amended, through which persons with psychosocial impairments got some kind of relief with regard to their treatment. The Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) was established as a statutory body to regulate the training of rehabilitation professionals, standardisation of training courses, promotion of research in rehabilitation, and maintenance of the Central Rehabilitation Register for professionals working with disabled people. A satellite channel dedicated to disability, Navshikhar, was inaugurated on 5 October 2007. All RCI recognised centres for rehabilitation education will be connected through this channel.
persons with disability act 1995
As per the Act, a Commissionerate was set up for each state to ensure proper implementation of the PWD Act 1995. Today, many states do not even have a full-time Commissioner to run this office. It has become merely a post-office that receives complaints from Persons With Disabilities.
Things to Do
It is known that other general legislations also contain, within their ambit, provisions for persons with disabilities. However, these provisions are not necessarily sensitive. Thus, protection against abuse, social security, custody of children, provision of basic needs such as food and shelter within the family and marital home are issues that still need to be adequately addressed.
Challenges for People With Disability Lack of opportunities for disabled citizens is often compounded by barriers of attitudes, caste, religion, etc. Negative attitudes of society can also be internalised, causing lack of confidence and dependency in disabled persons. Disabled people are hidden inside homes and are often not even counted in district data or the census due to ‘humiliation’, ‘fear’, ‘overprotection’ or sheer discrimination by the family. It is up to NGOs, DPOs and self help groups to demand the rightful share of the disabled in all development programmes / schemes. Creation of awareness about available facilities among the neediest persons with disability and their families should be focused on. New schemes need to be initiated exclusively for persons with disabilities. Schemes that are not working well need to be given a fresh look. Efforts to take information right down to the village level need to be undertaken. Implementing staff need to be aware of ground realities in remote corners of the country. The top-down approach needs to be reversed. Disabled people need to participate in planning, implementing and monitoring all programmes that affect them. Their voices need to reach policy makers.Their potential to contribute to the nation’s development remains untapped.Similarly, the nation’s progress and development will remain incomplete if it leaves behind millions of its disabled citizens. Hope a level playing field will be created, along with enhanced skill development, to enable the disabled to play – on par with everyone else. Inclusive development is the key for tomorrow’s success… if not striven for, great poverty reduction programme such as Millennium Development Goals will result in failure as persons with disabilities form a major chunk of people living in poverty.
Mr M Madhizhagan is Inclusive
Development Officer at CBM
South Asia Regional Office – South,