Feature

Volume 6 Issue 7 - September 15, 2009

It is time to ‘Act’!

With every changing Minister, the favourite task of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment seems to be ‘amending’ The Disability Act 1995. This time around too, the draft amendments are making their appearance. Javed Abidi, noted disability rights activist, wonders if this will be the final ‘act’ in this never ending saga!

The Indian disability sector is abuzz and our Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (M.S.J.E.) is certainly gung - ho about the possibility of ‘amending’ The Disability Act of 1995. This is the third time that M.S.J.E. is going overboard about this whole exercise and also, the third time that the disability sector’s so - called leadership, especially the ‘pro - government’ camp are over excited as if some mega circus is about to unfold! I urge caution. A hefty, undiluted dose of caution.

As far as I am concerned, the ‘Act’ is unamendable! It has run its time. It is archaic. It is over 13 years old. It was framed in the very early days of our Movement. Even the disability sector’s own understanding of what is now called ‘a rights based approach’ was way too nascent. It served its purpose at that time. It gave us and the Nation a firm foundation and a good beginning. It is time now to move on.

When I and several other senior colleagues from the Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.) met the Minister on August 29, I said to him in a lighter vein that when a car gets dented, you repair it. If it gets two dents or even five, you still get it repaired. But what if the car is totally damaged and dented from all sides, in every which way?! Mukul Wasnik understood my point and in good spirit responded, “Haan, iska toh engine hi baith gaya hai!!”

Getting serious, he elaborated that even he felt concerned at the number of amendments that were being proposed by the overzealous M.S.J.E. bureaucrats. “Over hundred,” he disclosed!

It was then, that we brought to his attention the flaws, substantial ones, that still existed in the so - called ‘Amendments’ document being floated around by the Ministry. In a chart form, we drew his attention to atleast 18 significant articles of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (U.N.C.R.P.D.) that were left out.

We then proposed that what India needs now, rather what the 70 million disabled people of India need now is a brand new, modern, forward looking, 21st century law! We even proposed a name!! The Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Respect for Dignity, Effective Participation and Inclusive Opportunities) Act, 2009!!!

We expected him to say a Big No. The gossip mongers of the disability sector had spread this rumour that the Minister was in a big hurry and he would rush the Amendments Bill to Parliament during this, upcoming Winter Session itself, etc. etc.

From what I saw that day, Mukul Wasnik seemed to listen carefully. He participated in the discussion intently, even debated a few points with our delegation. Most importantly, he was pretty calm and willing to consider our point of view. He then disclosed that (a) that he was in no hurry, (b) that he wanted to consult more, (c) that he will ensure that the process of consultation will remain open till December this year, and (d) that based on the inputs/feedback received, he will make up his mind as to whether he should go ahead with an Amendments Bill or a fresh piece of legislation.

This was music to our ears and we told him so. We also offered our services, pro - bono, to his Ministry and our undiluted cooperation in the drafting of the new law.

We reiterated our position and I state it here, one more time. We at N.C.P.E.D.P. and D.R.G. are totally opposed to the idea of Amendments. In the days, weeks and months ahead, we will work tirelessly and advocate passionately for the idea of a new law, a new vision, a fresh foundation firmly based on the principles enshrined in U.N.C.R.P.D.

We don’t know what the Ministry is up to! We haven’t heard from them since our August 29 meeting. At the recent Annual Conference of State Ministers of Welfare/Social Justice, held on September 7, Mukul Wasnik stated that they have “initiated the process to amend the Act”. To hear this was disappointing. However, we will not rush into any conclusion. And certainly, we will not rush into any kind of an unwarranted confrontation!

An Urdu poet very aptly stated this, “Unka farz hai, ahley siyasat jaane; mera paigham mohabbat hai, jahan tak pahunche!” Rough translation: It is their responsibility, let politicians decide; my job is to create awareness, as far as it can spread.

This is what we have done so far: (1) D.R.G. has constituted a Core Group, which has already met eleven times, quietly, in Delhi. (2) We have formulated our position and given it to the Minister. Copies have been sent to Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh. (3) Drafting of the new law has started and a few key chapters have already been written. Very soon, they will be unveiled to all concerned, especially to the disability sector. Dr. Achal Bhagat, G. Syamala, Vandana Bedi, Dr. Shanti Auluck, Radhika Alkazi and A.S. Narayanan have played and are playing a lead role. (4) N.C.P.E.D.P. has now set up a national level ‘Core Group on Disability Act 2009’. It includes all the key people from Delhi who have played a crucial role so far and laid a firm foundation for this entire process. Plus it will have leading disabled activists and N.G.O. leaders from across the Nation.

This is what we plan to do in the near future: (1) Lead the debate on ‘Amendments’ versus ‘New Law’. (2) Draft the new legislation in an open, transparent and participative way. (3) Put the chapters out for debate, discussion, feedback or criticism, as they get drafted. (4) Hold a national level Consultation on ‘Disability Act 2009’ in New Delhi on October 29. (5) Organise four Zonal Meetings across India (North, South, East and West) in the next few months to ensure that the mood and the voice of as many disabled people, activists, N.G.O. leaders, and just about everyone is heard and captured. (6) Present the draft “Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Respect for Dignity, Effective Participation and Inclusive Opportunities) Act, 2009” to the Government by the end of this year or very early next year. (7) Lead an intense advocacy drive across the Nation to lobby in favour of the new law. (8) Try, very very hard, to ensure its passage and enactment by next year.

As I have always said and maintained, no one single individual or organization or even a group of people can implement a task of this mammoth a proportion by herself or himself or themselves. All of us, each one of you, irrespective of whether you are disabled or not, or what your disability is; irrespective of whether you are from within the disability sector or from any other segment of society (as long you are a well wisher and an ally!); irrespective of which part of India you belong to or what your political ideology is; EACH ONE OF US must now take part in this discussion, debate, dialogue and discourse. And as far as possible, not merely ‘take part’ but LEAD the 4D process in every nook and corner of India.

The World Disability Day is less than three months away. Let this be our theme song for this year! Let me quote from the letter we gave to Mukul Wasnik, “We see this point of time as a watershed in the disability rights movement”.

Let’s read. Let’s think. Let’s talk.

We can’t be a mute spectator to a process which will define our future for the next 10, who knows 20, 25 or more years. We can’t leave it to the Babus of M.S.J.E., who think they know it all! We have to take control. We must take control. And LEAD. Yes, indeed, it is time for us to ‘Act’.

Click here for draft Amendments to the Disability Act 1995 as proposed by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (Word - 466 KB)
Click here for D.R.G.’s letter to Minister, Social Justice and Empowerment (Word - 60 KB)
D.R.G.’s Core Group on Disability Act 2009 (Word - 20 KB)
N.C.P.E.D.P.’s Core Group on Disability Act 2009 (Word - 21 KB)

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