Volume 8 Issue 1 - January 01, 2011
“Certain vested interests are spreading the rumour that I am demanding abolition of the National Trust,” Javed Abidi
He is the person that many love to hate. Not new for someone who has caused many a discomfort by questioning the status quo in the Indian disability sector for the past two decades. Pioneering the concept of ‘advocacy’ in a sector seeped in service delivery has been anything but easy. But from getting India’s first disability law to getting people with disabilities into Civil Services to fighting for inclusive education to sports to getting people with disabilities enumerated in Census – he has fought many a battles and lived to tell his story. He is currently happy playing the role of the favourite punching bag of the Committee drafting the new disability law who would love to blame him for all woes that plague the world. In a candid interview with Dorodi Sharma of D.N.I.S., Javed Abidi, Convenor of the Disabled Rights Group, quells some of the rumours doing the rounds.
Javed Abidi, Convenor, Disabled Rights Group
D.N.I.S.: After 7 long months of advocacy Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.) was finally able to convince Mukul Wasnik to go for new disability law based on U.N.C.R.P.D. However, things have gone haywire post that. Where do you think things went wrong?
Javed Abidi: On day one! As the Minister in charge of disability issues, Mukul Wasnik appointed a 27 member jumbo committee to draft a new disability rights law, supposedly to fulfill the letter and spirit of U.N.C.R.P.D. and then packed it with bureaucrats, professionals and parents!! That was the surest way to ensure that things went ‘haywire’!
Way back in the 1980s, Disabled Peoples International (D.P.I.) gave the now very famous slogan ‘Nothing About Us, Without Us’. U.N.C.R.P.D. reinforced it by firmly mandating that policy making and decision making on disability issues should be in the hands of disabled people. Hon’ble Minister failed to understand this mandate, leave alone act upon it.
For the record, there were only 3 disabled people in that 27 member committee. After we protested, another 4 were added.
D.N.I.S.: There is a growing apprehension in a section of the sector that you are asking for the abolition of The National Trust and the Rehabilitation Council of India. How valid is that fear?
Javed Abidi: That is the farthest from truth! I am aware that certain vested interests have spread that canard. They just want to scare their respective constituencies, especially the parents of children with Autism, mental retardation and other psycho social disabilities.
On the contrary, we desperately want the National Trust to be strengthened, to have more powers, to have greater autonomy, and above all, to have at least 10 to 20 times more resources. Those who want status quo are not able to explain to me as to why is the corpus of the National Trust still only 100 crores, as it was 11 years ago when it was first established?
We also want the National Trust to cater to ALL people with disabilities with high support needs. When Merry Barua opposes that in the name of Autism or J.P. Gadkari opposes that in the name of mental retardation, I am unable to understand their logic. I wonder what are they advocating? Are they, God forbid, saying that they do want all the facilities and resources for their children/adults only but NOT for the other severely disabled children/adults?
R.C.I. is a regulatory body. It also needs to be expanded. It also needs more resources. Most importantly, it needs stronger teeth.
Let me repeat that we do not want to abolish either National Trust or Rehabilitation Council. We want both to continue and flourish. We want both to be stronger bodies, with more powers and more resources. Being implementation organizations, we wanted them under one law, under one statute. That’s all. And, we will continue to advocate for that.
D.N.I.S.: Can you explain for our readers the ‘one comprehensive law’ vision of the sector?
Javed Abidi: It is pretty simple actually! One comprehensive law means a law containing ALL the rights of ALL the people with disabilities. In other words, what happened in 1995 should not get repeated, where for example we did mention deaf people in the list of 7 disabilities but except the 1 percent reservation in education and employment, there is just about nothing for them in that law. No mention of sign language, its development, training of sign language interpreters. Without sign language, neither education nor employment is really possible for hearing impaired people. But, our policy makers, our law makers didn’t think of all this in 1995.
Similarly, we listed mental retardation in the list of 7 disabilities, but again there was/is nothing for them, nor any relief or succour for their parents in the 1995 law. If our policy makers, our law makers were more aware and more sensitized and had greater attention been paid and adequate provisions made, do you think there would have been any realistic need for a fresh/new/different law, just 4 years later, namely the National Trust Act of 1999? My contention is that this law was needed/required only because of the inadequacy and the incompleteness of the 1995 law.
By the mid 90s, Merry Barua had started making her presence felt and thanks to her and her colleagues at Action for Autism, the term ‘Autism’ became known. She advocated heavily, generated lot of awareness and ensured that the concerns of people with Autism were made part of the National Trust agenda. Even though, Autism as a disability had got left out of the 1995 law, it was these efforts that ensured that Autism gained an entry as a disability in the 1999 law.
Unfortunately, people with dyslexia and various other learning disabilities were not as lucky!! They didn’t have strong leaders. Good people like say Kate Currawala or Geet Oberoi, etc. were there but perhaps not with strong enough voices. Perhaps not too politically savvy. Perhaps not so well networked, not so well connected. Whatever the reasons, and one can only speculate, but the honest and harsh reality is that both, the 1995 law, as well as the 1999 law, failed to enlist dyslexia/learning disabilities even as a disability. What about their rights, their needs, their desires?
And the worst off perhaps were people living with mental illness (P.L.M.I.). Mind you, the 1995 law listed them as people with disabilities but left it at just that! There is literally not a word about them, their difficulties, their barriers, their rights in the Disability Act of 1995. And surprisingly (today in retrospect, when we analyse), nobody thought of them even when the 1999 law was being crafted. Are they not people with high support needs? If not all of them, a significant percentage of them? So how come the National Trust did not cater to their needs?
We must learn from our mistakes of 1995 and 1999, and not repeat them. To do patchwork amendments to the four laws would be the easiest solution. The question we are posing to the Committee and to M.S.J.E., and in turn to the Nation is that are you looking for easy solutions or long term, wholesome solutions that will truly benefit the disabled people of India – ALL the 70 million of them!
D.N.I.S.: You have been accused of trouble mongering and not letting the Committee function. Some of the attacks have obviously been very personal and in bad taste. How do you react to those?
Javed Abidi: I have been consistently accused of being a trouble monger since practically the day I joined the Indian disability sector! Only the names and the faces change. It all depends on the issue you are fighting for or against. The very people who are ‘attacking’ me today were my friends, colleagues and even co-conspirators until quite recently. On the other hand, some of the people who are supporting me or working very closely with me used to be my opponents and critics in the past!!
Would it surprise you if I say that over the last so many years, I have sort of developed a very thick skin. These things don’t bother me so much. It is the end goal that I am always concerned about. Nothing else matters.
D.N.I.S.: You have also been accused of being a ‘self styled leader’ of a ‘minority group’ of people who want ‘one comprehensive law’. Would you care to clear that?
Javed Abidi: When did I claim to be a leader?! Self appointed or otherwise?!! I am, infact, surprised and amused that someone would dedicate 3 full pages of their national level newsletter in reproducing some, by and large, useless correspondence exchanged with me? Why give me so much prominence, so much attention, so much of free publicity??
Another Committee Member has been calling up journalists in Delhi to complain as to why they listen to me so much or I guess, why do they listen to me at all?! The journalists, in turn, asked her as to when was the last time that she did anything newsworthy? They assured her that if she or her Committee does anything worthwhile, they certainly would give her/them an equal prominence.
N.A.L.S.A.R. has gone to the extent of asking its students to write blogs, where I have been accused of being the “chief opponent of the law”!! The young lady who hurriedly wrote that piece in defence of her professor and perhaps, her institute was not discerning enough to understand (or explain) the difference between opposing the law versus opposing a bad draft of an incomprehensive law.
Now, that clearly is ‘yellow journalism’ but there is friend out there who can’t see through the fog. To her these attacks on me, these innuendos are not ‘yellow’ enough, but the information dissemination that we do at N.C.P.E.D.P. or through D.N.I.S. was angrily labeled as “yellow journalism”!!
D.N.I.S.: A lot is also being said about how people with disabilities in ‘rural India’ are not part of this vision, etc. How do you react to that?
Javed Abidi: Policies, especially laws, are created in the National Capital, which happens to be New Delhi. Any good policy, any strong law will impact the whole of India. Yes, the policies and the law should be such where the needs and the concerns of all disabled people are met and 70 to 80 per cent of them live in rural India. That is precisely the reason why in all our work, our nationwide advocacy, we have always consulted first and formulated a position or an opinion later. Diverse, pan India and across disabilities, opinions are sought, debates are held, and then only, views are formed. Just look at the spectrum – from Javed Ahmad Tak of Jammu & Kashmir to Rajiv Rajan of Tamil Nadu, from Sruti Mohapatra in Orissa to Ketan Kothari in Maharashtra. Hundreds of them! They are the leaders. They represent the real India, both urban and rural.
D.N.I.S: Finally, what are you looking forward to in 2011?
Javed Abidi: Even though some very precious time has been wasted, I continue to live in hope. I know it won’t be easy but we will persist. I sincerely do hope that we get a new, truly comprehensive disability rights law within this year.
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