People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 08

February 21, 2010

Convention on Rights of the Disabled




AT Thiruvananthapuram, recently attending a workshop for activists in the disability sector, I chanced to read in a local newspaper a shocking report of a seven-year old girl being beaten to death by her own father. The report said that the father was unable to bear the plight of his physically and mentally disabled daughter. The incident took place at Thripangottur in Kannur district of Kerala on January 14. Disability and poverty combined with the fact that the child was a girl and hence more vulnerable, are factors that would have influenced the father to commit this grave and unpardonable crime. The stigma attached to disabilities should have also played no small role in depriving the child of the right to life. But it is all the more shocking since the incident has taken place in a state like Kerala, a state with high development indicators.

But this is a reality of the conditions under which the disabled live in the country today, on the margins, condemned to a life of poverty, ignorance and destitution; deprived of education, sustainable livelihood, health, security and even the right to life. They are discriminated
against, denied access to justice, unable to participate in the political and public life; subjected to torture, exploitation and violence; and denied freedom of movement as well. Many of them are abandoned by their families. The conditions worldwide are no better.


It is against this background that activists working in the disability sector will meet in the city of Kolkata on February 20 and 21, 2010 to deliberate on the plight of the disabled persons in the country, harmonising Indian laws in the context of the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities etc.


The Paschim Banga Rajya Pratibandhi Sammilani, a premier organisation of the disabled in West Bengal with a membership of over two lakhs will play host. It would be held at the Salk Lake Stadium. Activists and workers from across the country will be participating in the convention.


The convention would be inaugurated by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and Rajya Sabha MP, Brinda Karat. An approach paper would be placed which would form the basis for the discussions on three broad themes � education and health, employment and livelihood and UNCRPD and legal issues. The convention is expected to adopt a charter of demands for mobilisation and agitation.



Disabled people have always been viewed as different from other human beings. Social responses to disabled people�s needs and rights have separated or isolated them from their communities. In some places disabled people are seen as quasi-gods, in others disability is seen as the embodiment of sin.  Disabled children have been left to die or abandoned at the gates of temples.  Disabled people have been isolated in their own homes. Legal systems throughout the world have denied justice to disabled people.


In most parts of the world, there are deep and persistent negative stereotypes and prejudices against persons with certain conditions and differences.  The language used to refer to persons with disabilities plays a significant role in creating and maintaining negative stereotypes. This has been a major factor in the dehumanising of disabled people.  Terms such as �crippled� or �mentally retarded� are clearly derogative. The term �wheel chair bound� emphasises the disability rather than the person. The stigma attached to disability often forces parents to keep away their children from public view and interacting with society.


Impairment and disability are viewed similarly.  In reality however, most of us have impairments, either physical or behavioural or both.  And we see those impairments as only a part of our self not the whole.  Disability is the social response to our impairments. Disability is the response of attitudinal and systemic discrimination, prejudice, stigma and fear.


This is how Leandro Despouy, the UN Special Rapporteur on Disability succinctly put it in the introduction of his report to the United Nations in 1993:

�The treatment given to disabled persons defines the innermost characteristics of a society and highlights the cultural values that sustain it.  It might appear elementary to point out that persons with disabilities are human beings � as human as, and usually even more human than, the rest.�


This recognition finds reflection in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that came into force in May 2008. The UNCRPD views disability as the result of the interaction between a person and his/her environment, that disability is something that resides in the individual as the result of some impairment.


While legislation attempting to set right the inequalities in the status of women, ethnic groups, minorities and children  have been enacted over a period of time, it is only recently that the subordinate status of disabled people, their inequality and the injustice meted out to them has been recognised and positive intervention initiated. Despite theoretically being entitled to all human rights, persons with disabilities, are in practice, denied all those basic rights and fundamental freedoms that most people take for granted.


The inter-relationship between disability, poverty and poor health is not fully recognised. Poverty leads to poor nutrition, lack of access to health, unhealthy and unsafe living and working conditions, which can lead to impairments and disease. Impairments can be brought down to a great extent if proper care is given to the mother during pregnancy; proper attention during child birth where complications like lack of oxygen to the brain, hemorrhage etc take place; prevention of infections like meningitis, encephalitis etc in new-borns.


There is a huge gap in terms of health services available for disabled persons in the country. Inaccessible buildings, negative/stereotypical attitude and in some cases ignorance of health professionals, lack of experience to communicate with people with certain kinds of disabilities, expensive treatment etc. are some issues concerning the health sector for the disabled.


Recently, the social welfare department of Delhi was pulled up by information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi for the "despicable" condition of the schools for children with special needs. "It is obvious that the department was neglecting its duty of appointing teachers for hearing impaired children since the year 2000. This is really despicable," Gandhi said. Schools for hearing impaired in the national capital are facing shortage of teachers for the past 10 years.  This is not an isolated case. Conditions are similar or even worse in many other states.

The dreadful conditions under which people with mental disabilities are kept in observatory homes has once again been brought to light by the deaths of 22 people in the last two months alone in a observatory home, Asha Kiran in Delhi. Many disability groups protested at the Jantar Mantar, Delhi on February 2 against the appalling conditions in the observatory home.  It is all the more shocking that despite being directed by the National Human Rights Commission (N.H.R.C.) to look into the deaths, the Delhi government and its social welfare department took no action to improve the condition of inmates. An observatory home meant to lodge 350 had 730 inmates on its rolls.

Not getting employment despite possessing qualifications and requisite skills, even after passing entrance examinations has been the bane of the disabled. Recently, a visually impaired candidate who qualified for the Civil Services beating all odds was denied an IAS posting and offered a post in the Indian Railways Personnel Service. Thirty year old Ajit Kumar from Haryana lost vision at the age of  three. �I have not been allotted IAS only because I do not have full vision,� he rued.  Though the Disability Act of 1995 stipulates that one percent of seats in IAS should be reserved for people with visual impairments, it is generally not done.  Mr Kumar is not one to give up having fought and struggled all along.

There are a host of other issues concerning the disabled like employment, livelihood, accessibility, a barrier free environment, etc. which are not being enumerated here. But they will definitely form part of the deliberations at the convention.

At present the ministry of social justice and empowerment is the nodal agency for the issues of the disabled. Since the issues of the disabled include education, health, employment, livelihood, etc. they have to be mainstreamed through special cells into the agendas of all ministries concerned with government schemes and projects like HRD, rural employment, other employment or self-employment schemes, urban development, etc.  It is imperative that a separate department for disabilities affairs be created.

The conditions of the disabled or their advancement cannot be seen in isolation. Their advancement is crucially linked to the advance of the democratic movement and society in general. It is incumbent upon the general democratic movement to raise the issues of the disabled and reflect their concerns and aspirations. Disability issues have to be mainstreamed and should become part of the democratic movement and consciousness of the people.

The Kolkata convention under the banner of the platform for the rights of the disabled, we are sure, will be another milestone in the movement for the rights of the disabled.