People's Democracy

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


No. 21

May 23, 2010



Unprecedented Response




THE unprecedented response that the April 20 dharna received gives an inkling of the shape that the movement of disabled persons for justice and right to a dignified life is going to take in the near future. The turnout in the national capital’s Parliament Street in response to the call given by the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled, was massive. Proving all projected estimates wrong over 4000 disabled persons turned up for the dharna. They were undaunted by Delhi’s scorching heat and the multitude of obstacles that they had to encounter and cross to make it to Delhi. Surged by enthusiasm the hundreds that had gathered at Atul Grove Road marched to Parliament street raising slogans and  giving vent to their anger against an insensitive and callous administration that refuses to recognise their problems let alone addressing them.


Earlier, a nine-member delegation led by Brinda Karat, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and Rajya Sabha MP, met the prime minister and submitted a memorandum enlisting the demands. It was for the first time that the prime minister was meeting a delegation of disabled persons at Parliament House. It is pertinent here to note that only one gate of the Parliament House complex, Gate No 9, is disabled friendly. A disabled person can access parliament only through this gate. Later, in the evening a delegation also met the minister for social justice and empowerment, Mukul Wasnik. Both of them said the government is sympathetic towards the issues raised in the Memorandum and was also considering change in laws and also bringing in a new law to replace the outdated Persons With Disabilities Act, 1995. The issue was also raised in parliament by CPI(M) MPs.


There were people on wheel chairs, there were persons who crawled on their four limbs, there were others who walked the distance with the aid of their crutches, there were persons who needed assistance  and had to be guided all along and there were a few who had to be transported in a vehicle. Persons with hearing and speech disabilities, persons with visual disabilities, persons with motion related disabilities, people with stunted physical growth, representatives of persons with intellectual disabilities and their caregivers, all were there determined and unflinching in their resolve. They were agitating on the demands for a universal identity card, employment opportunities, amendment to the RTE Act to include the disabled, replacement of the PWD Act of 1995 with a new law and harmonising all other laws in tune with the United Nations Convention on Persons with Disabilities, 2008.


Leading the march were Brinda Karat and leading members of the National Platform Kanti Ganguly, Sailen Chaudhury, P Mohanan and O Vijayan, Namburajan, G Ramulu, and Subash Gupta. Participating organisations included the Paschim Banga Pratibandhi Sammelini, the Differently Abled Welfare Federation, the Karnataka Rajya Angavikalara Mattu Palakara Okkota, Tamilnadu Association for the Rights of all Types of Disabled and Caregivers, Jharkhand Viklang Manch, and the Vibhinna Prathiba Vanthula Hakkula Vedika, Andhra Pradesh. There were contingents also from Haryana, Gujarat, Rajasthan etc. Then there were participants from organisations which were not associated with the platform like the Human Rights Law Network, the Aarth-Aasta, the National Association of the Deaf, the Deafway Foundation etc.


What was most shocking was the insensitivity of the railways. This is amply reflected in various obstacles put before the West Bengal contingent before they could finally make it to Delhi. Initially, the railways refused to give a special train at concessional rates, despite the disabled being entitled to concessions. Later on after the matter was pursued vigorously, the railways decided to run a special train between Howrah and Delhi. The train which was scheduled to reach Delhi at around 1.30 am on April 20 finally reached at around 10.30 am. This was not all. The railways left no stone unturned to ensure that the disabled passengers faced a very difficult time. Despite the train making long unscheduled stops all along the route, water in the washrooms were not replenished, putting the passengers to discomfort. It is only after reaching Lucknow that too after being forced by the passengers that the railway authorities filled water. On their return journey too, even though the train was parked at Anand Vihar station for more than eight hours water was not filled. After the agitated disabled passengers raised a hue and cry, the authorities promised to fill water at Ghaziabad. But it was done only a few stations later long after Ghaziabad had passed. When the matter was raised in the Rajya Sabha by Brinda Karat an infuriated minister for railways, Mamata Banerjee instead of assuaging the feelings of the disabled passengers turned intemperate and accused them of misutilising the water provided in the washrooms.


Kanti Ganguly, leader of the Sammelini and minister in the West Bengal government, addressing the dharna accused the union railway minister for attempting to settle political scores. He detailed the hurdles and troubles that the disabled persons encountered even while traveling by a so-called special train. The “special” treatment meted out to these passengers by the railways came in for universal condemnation by the participants. He vowed alongwith the participants from the Paschim Banga Rajya Prathibandi Sammelni to not take it lying down and fight back.


Speaking at the dharna, 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. Congratulating the participants she maintained that it is only because the disabled have organised and have started asserting themselves that the movement for their rights has gained momentum.  She called upon the democratic forces to include disability issues as part of their agenda.


Others who spoke were P Mohanan from Kerala, Pankaj Das from West Bengal, Sumati from Andhra Pradesh, Aparna from Tamilnadu, Menna Kumari from Jharkhand and Rajiv Raturi from the Human Resources Law Network. Sign language interpreter from the Deafway Foundation, Gaganpreet Kaur translated the proceedings into sign language for the benefit of those with hearing disability.