People's Democracy

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


No. 09

February 28, 2010

No Pity Or Charity, We Want Rights



“NO pity or charity, we want Rights.”  That was Meena Kumari succinctly summing up the mood of the delegates at the concluding session of the two day all India convention of the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled. “And fight we shall for achieving these”, continued the determined delegate from rural Jharkhand, who had to struggle her way to make it to the stage on her four limbs. She reflected the resolve of the over 350 delegates who had assembled from different parts of the country at Kolkata to participate in the convention on February 20 and 21, 2010. The Convention gave a call for a struggle on some of the pressing demands before the disabled community. It would begin with a dharna at Delhi in the month of April to coincide with the parliament session.

As we entered the venue, the Salt Lake Stadium, we were greeted by hoardings, festoons and buntings all proclaiming the rights of the disabled, expressing the aspirations and desire of disabled persons for a world that would recognize diversity and treat the disabled as equal partners in development. Inside the hall we were awestruck by the exhibition of paintings of an intellectually challenged boy Atri Sen. The entire venue was turned disabled friendly. A team of volunteers from the Paschim Banga Rajya Pratibandhi Sammilani, the hosts, worked tirelessly round the clock to ensure that the arrangements were excellent and to ensure that there were no barriers in making the convention a grand success.

The convention opened with an impressive musical performance by students of the Manav Vikas Kendra, an institution for intellectually challenged children. A three member presidium consisting of O Vijayan from Kerala, Sailen Chaudhury from West Bengal and Maya Das from Tripura conducted the proceedings.

Inaugurating the convention, CPI(M) Polit Bureau Member and MP, Brinda Karat  drew attention to the lack of sensitivity to the issues concerning the disabled. She cautioned that no society can consider itself democratic unless it is able to provide equal opportunities to all its citizens, including persons with disabilities. “No country which claims to be democratic can have such undemocratic approach towards such a large section of the population. A disabled person is kicked around like a football from one office to another and harassed by corrupt officials before he or she is issued even an identity card” she asserted.  Further, “It is society which is disadvantaged, it is society that is disabled because they are not able to understand the richness of what this sector can contribute.  Expressing concern over the spiralling rise in the prices of foodgrains, Brinda underlined that this would have a direct impact on the nutritional requirements of the poor among the disabled persons”. She assured the delegates that MPs from the Left parties will raise the demand for issuance of Antyodaya ration cards for all disabled persons during the Budget session of parliament.

Criticising the Centre’s claims on ‘inclusive education’ and ‘right to education,’ Brinda  regretted that the “Centre’s policies are totally insensitive to the demands of a disabled child. It is a shame that the centre is cutting funds for special schools in the name of inclusive education at a time when it is giving tax concessions to the tune of Rs 4 lakh crore to corporate giants and also refusing to ensure special special educators in all inclusive schools.”

Delivering the convener Address, Kanti Ganguly emphasised that the “problems connected with a disabled person are not merely a problem of disabled or disability - it is a problem affecting the entire society. The assumption that this huge population is incapable of contributing anything to society and must remain a perpetual burden on it, is an impediment not only to the welfare of the disabled alone but even more so to the welfare of society as a whole.”  Further, he pointed out, “Till now, efforts have been made to find  solutions to the problems relating to the disabled, principally on the basis of ‘philanthropy’. …  We have to now move from an approach based on charity to a Rights based approach.”

The approach paper placed by Muralidharan on behalf of the preparatory committee   noted that “The welfare and advancement of disabled is crucially linked to the recognition of their rights as equal citizens, not as recipients of charity or patronage.  Policies have also to recognise the different needs and requirements of disabled persons.” The paper detailed the dismal conditions facing the disabled persons in the country today in the realm of education, employment, livelihood, social security, accessibility etc. and raised demands to ameliorate these conditions. Three separate thematic sessions on employment and livelihood; education & health; and UNCRPD and disability laws followed the placing of the approach paper.

Initiating the discussion on employment and livelihood issues, G N Nagaraj from Karnataka pointed out that “After globalisation, privatisation and liberalisation policies, the employment scenario for the disabled has further aggravated.  Contractualisation, Casualisation and various other forms of semi employment and unemployment has increased.  In this context even weak attempts of providing employment to the disabled through special employment exchanges etc. have vanished.”  Hence, unless the whole gamut of policies are changed “employment of disabled will be very tardy.  When production activities are subject to the vagaries of market, recession and crisis, the possibilities of self employment for the disabled will be a mirage.”

Nagaraj also drew attention to the attitude of policy makers and the employers stating that employers also think that the productivity of the disabled will be very low and it will hit their profits.  They also think that when there is a reserve army of able bodied unemployed available why should they employ disabled with low productivity? 

Participating in the discussion delegates noted that despite possessing requisite qualifications, skills and passing competitive exams, the disabled persons were denied jobs on one pretext or the other. Inspite of three percent reservation there is a huge backlog to be filled. Even though there was a huge scarcity of special teachers thousands of special teachers working under the Integrated Education for Disabled Children (IEDC) scheme were thrown out of jobs throughout the country.

P Mohanan of the Differently Abled Welfare Federation, Kerala initiated the discussion on education and health. He stressed the need for a comprehensive education policy to include the disabled. Although the central government has adopted a policy of “inclusive education”, no provision for infrastructural facilities or special training for teachers has been made thus weakening the programme. In most states, education for persons with disability is catered to by a multiplicity of departments which leads to improper implementation of education schemes.

Mohanan regretted that at present there is no particular programme for the disabled under the NRHM. He pointed to the need to develop a comprehensive programme on prevention of disabilities. The National Urban Health Mission and the National Rural Health Mission should incorporate disability as an important component. Infrastructure at all health centres from the primary level to district levels should be made disabled-friendly and to cater to the needs of the disabled. A module on disability may be included in the MBBS course. Free medical facilities based on identity cards should be provided to all disabled including hospitalisation.

On disability laws, Namburajan from the Platform For All Disabilities, Tamilnadu pointed out that “The plethora of legislations concerning the disabled do not reflect the needs and aspirations of the sector. Experience shows that even the implementation of these Acts have been far from satisfactory. He regretted that the amendments proposed by the ministry of social justice and empowerment to the persons with disabilities act, 1995 did not reflect the shift envisaged in the UN convention on rights of persons with disabilities.  The UN treaty emphasises that States are bound to treat persons with disabilities not just as victims or members of a minority, but as subjects of law with clearly defined rights. The 1995 Act is welfare based and written on the basis of what a person with disability cannot do as opposed to a “Rights-based-approach” and what the disabled can do. What is required is a new Act that would have a “Rights-based-approach” and in accordance to the UNCRPD. All stakeholders have to be consulted and taken into confidence. 

During the course of the discussion on education and health delegates pointed out the lack of facilities in the states. On legal issues the convention was unanimous in demanding the replacement of the persons with disabilities act 1995 with a new Act that would be in consonance with the United Nations convention on rights of persons with disabilities.

Activists working among the disabled from various states and organisations exchanged their experience on the second day of the convention. Narrating their experiences they drew attention to the shoddy treatment meted out to the disabled persons, the lack of sensitivity to the issues concerning the disabled and the deep rooted prejudices prevailing in society. The derogatory language used and the ridicule they are subjected to drew angst amongst the delegates. A total of 47 delegates participated in the discussions.

The inadequacy of sign language teachers and interpreters, shortage of textbooks and study material in Braille, apathy towards rehabilitation of the mentally ill and the total lack of sensitivity of the railways and other departments also came in for sharp criticism. Some delegates pointed to even the new malls being disabled unfriendly and inadequate provisions for prosecution of those making derogatory remarks against persons with disabilities.  Demands were also raised for political representation for the disabled and on the Censor Board as well. Prof. Ponmudi (a visually challenged person) from Tamilnadu opined that special schools for intellectually challenged children should be run by the government only. He also demanded that books in Braille should be easily available. Mr. Deepak from the Federation of Tamilnadu Physically Handicapped Association in a moving presentation highlighted the difficulties that persons with disabilities face in day to day life. He also called for amending the Constitution to guarantee disabled equality.

The spirit of camaraderie and unity despite their diversity was all pervasive. The convergence of persons of different disabilities on a common platform, the spirit of understanding and accommodation prevailed. Persons with hearing and speech disabilities, persons with visual disabilities, persons with motion related disabilities, representatives of persons with intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities and mental illness all spoke in one voice on the need to unite and build a strong movement to reverse policies that subjected the disabled to this state of affairs. The convention gave a clarion call for conducting a countrywide struggle on a nine-point charter of demands. The struggle will begin with a dharna in Delhi in April coinciding with the parliament session.

The national convention of disabled persons held at Kolkata under the umbrella of the national platform for the rights of the disabled will prove to be a milestone in the movement of the disabled in the country. During the course of the two days, participants went threadbare into the issues confronting the sector and came out with a charter outlining some of the pressing demands. They went back inspired, determined to redouble their resolve to building and strengthening the movement of the disabled for attaining their rights and to live a dignified life.

Charter of Demands


1.     Proper enumeration of the persons with disabilities through scientific method as promised in the 11th Five Year Plan document.

2.     Issuance of a universally valid identity card, which would be valid throughout the country and accepted by all departments and institutions.

3.     Setting up of a separate ministry for disability affairs  

4.     A comprehensive social security system for all persons with disabilities and their families, including Antyodaya cards to all disabled persons.

5.     Effective inclusive education with adequate teachers and professionals as prescribed by RCI standards and infrastructure. Continuation and increase of grants to special schools.

6.     Identification for jobs for the disabled immediately. Special recruitment drives each year to fill the vacancies including backlog within a stipulated time.

7.     Replacing the current Persons with Disabilities Act (1995) in consonance with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and harmonising other laws.

8.     Prevention and Awareness and free health care for all disabled in all hospitals.

9.     Provision of concessions in all local trains, continuing the unreserved bogey for the disabled, extension of e-booking facility for the disabled.