With the Civil Services Examination (Preliminary) barely a month away, bright disabled people are once again being denied legitimate concessions to enable them an equal playing field to compete in these exams. Parvinder Singh takes a look at the struggle of the disability sector and disabled individuals to find a place in India’s elite bureaucratic services.
Sunita’s anxiety is hitting its peak as the date of 14 May 2006 comes closer in her calendar. She holds on to the very last glimmer of hope. In a different place, Sunil is going through a similar battle in his mind. These two young people fear the worst, as on this date when hundreds of thousands of young men and women take a shot at the coveted Indian Civil Services, they could be sitting inside their homes reminiscing on a battle that ended even before it began.
Both are disabled and caught on the wrong side of rules laid for appearing for Civil Services Examination (C.S.E.).
Sunita Dogra is waiting to hear from the Department of Personnel and Training (D.o.P.T) on her appeal for being allowed a scribe for writing her examination as she cannot use both upper limbs since birth. Sunil Kumar is hoping for an even greater miracle, as he has gone to the Delhi High Court asking why disabled people are not allowed same number of attempts as is allowed to other categories that are given reservation. The Court has deferred the hearing till September 2006, while adding that the legislature should take a policy decision.
The issue of opening the coveted bureaucratic services to disabled people has now assumed the status of a movement, a decade after the Disability Act was passed mandating three per cent reservation for disabled people. In this movement, disabled aspirants and organisations advocating their rights have seen moments of hope, despair and victory.
With the latest show of apathy, bordering on blatant discrimination, D.o.P.T., that frames guidelines for appearing in the C.S.E, has once again come under focus.
In the ongoing hearing on the petition in the Delhi High Court, the D.o.P.T. has filed an affidavit claiming that such allowing more attempts will provide an unfair advantage to disabled candidates over other candidates! Though it concedes that like other disadvantaged social sections, disabled people have great difficulty in pursuing their education.
In February 2005, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh issued a landmark order opening some of the top Group A and Group B services to disabled candidates. The Ministries controlling the other central services, like Indian Police Service, Indian Foreign Service and Indian Forest Service were asked to examine the applicability of the Persons with Disability Act, 1995 and reservation of 3 per cent in these respective services. This order was music to the ears of the disability sector and particularly disabled aspirants as they could now dare to dream for the best.
But this path-breaking order needs to be seen in the backdrop of an earlier victory for two disabled men, Rigzian Sampheal and Lokesh Kumar. Both of them had cleared the C.S.E. and scored ranks that entitled them to the Indian Administrative Service (I.A.S.) yet they were offered appointments at a much lower scale in the Indian Information Service.
D.o.P.T. offered a bizarre logic for not being able to appoint them in I.A.S. It said that since no posts had been identified for disabled people in I.A.S., they could not be placed in that service and were instead forced into Indian Information Service.
The two finally got justice and were appointment to I.A.S. only after the Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.) took up their cause. The Delhi High Court also admitted it as a Public Interest Litigation (P.I.L.) in February 2004.
Coming back to this year’s examination, on India’s 57th Republic Day, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (N.C.P.E.D.P.) wrote a letter to the Minister of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Suresh Pachouri. It was pointed out that while candidates belonging to Scheduled Castes (S.C.) and Scheduled Tribes (S.T.) have unlimited number of attempts till the age of 35, and Other Backward Castes (O.B.C.) candidates have seven attempts till the age of 33; disabled candidates despite 10 years of age relaxation are not allowed more than four attempts.
“You would agree that people with disabilities face lot of impediments in accessing educational opportunities due to physical, economic, attitudinal and systemic barriers. These barriers result in delayed attempts at completing education and entering the job market,” said N.C.P.E.D.P. Executive Director Javed Abidi in the letter, while asking the Minister to issue necessary directions to U.P.S.C. for increasing the number of attempts for disabled civil service aspirants and allowing them unlimited attempts as in the case of S.C. and S.T. candidates. However, no favourable response has been received so far from the Minister on the issue.
The examination, which produce India’s top-ranking bureaucrats, have in the past two decades emerged as the canvas of new India, reflecting political, economic and social empowerment of historically marginalised sections of society. But disabled people have been denied similar participation in these services despite a decade having passed by since the Disability Act mandated three per cent reservation in Government services.
If Sunita and Sunil are allowed to appear in the Preliminary on 14 May 2006, they, as disabled candidates, will have option of 19 services identified for disabled people as compared to only seven a year back. This is good news and a call to the aspiring young disabled men and women to claim their legitimate place among the ranks of country’s top policy makers.