As we commemorate India’s 60th year of Independence, Javed Abidi, Executive Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (N.C.P.E.D.P.), and Convenor of Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.) that effectively lobbied for the passage of The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, through his critical commentary, portrays the abysmal picture as far as India’s 70 million disabled citizens are concerned.
is an interesting year. In February, we commemorated the passing away of a
decade since the enactment of The Disability Act. Now, in August – on 15th
to be precise – we enter the 60th year of
59 or 60 years is a long enough period in a Nation’s life. It is a good time to introspect. I do so as a Disabled Indian.
No one knows the
exact history of the disability sector in
The contours are known to us and they are important. Most organisations that got set up in the 1950s and the 1960s wanted to do service delivery in the welfare mode and were managed, often run, by non-disabled people. Some of these non-disabled people were parents, some were siblings or relatives and quite a lot were merely do-gooders.
Vast tracts of land were either given free by the then Governments or were bought at nominal prices, thanks to the charity and welfare approach that was then prevalent and to which these N.G.O. leaders also subscribed. Grants and donations were aplenty. It did not take very long for big buildings to get built and thus the first few ‘institutions’ for the disabled were born.
From there began an era where people with disabilities were merely recipients of charity and therefore, pity. The N.G.O. leaders revelled in the adulation that society bestowed upon them for ‘taking care of’ and ‘looking after’ these poor ‘handicapped’ souls. The N.G.O. leaders saw nothing wrong in all of this. They went after more grants, more aid and therefore, more service delivery, more charity, more welfare and more pity.
And all of this continued right until the 1990s. Almost half a century having gone by, literally without even a whisper. As far as disabled Indians are concerned, 50 years wasted or simply wiped away.
For basic survival, one needs food, clothing and shelter and none of these three come free! And to be economically self-sufficient, one needs a job or some form of work. For that, one needs basic education and access (as in a barrier-free environment). If not both education and access, then at least one.
Argumentatively, if one is educated, one can earn some form of living even from home (in the absence of access). Similarly, if one is illiterate but if the environment is barrier-free, one can venture out and do something to earn enough to survive.
But what would one do in the absence of both, education and access??? The answer is not a difficult one to guess.
The situation for
the blind is not all too different. Even in the olden era, the Braille books
were never available. Now that
Education for the deaf is almost like a dream. Not due to any fault of theirs and surely not, because they don’t want to study! But because our so-called educational system is totally ill equipped to meet their basic needs. Forget sign language interpreters, we do not even have a properly developed sign language.
In this dismal a scenario, to even raise the issue of educating our children with either a mental or a neurological disability would be like cracking the proverbial bad joke.
Let me present you with some crushing statistics. A recent N.C.P.E.D.P. Research revealed that out of the 7,13,167 reported number of University students, merely 1500 or so were disabled. Out of them, while 1,163 were orthopaedically disabled and 307 were visually impaired, only and I repeat only 38 were deaf.
If one was to question the authenticity of the NCPEDP statistics, then let me share with you the most recent CBSE 10th Board results. Out of the 6,32,014 total number of students, only 909 were disabled. And out of those, 514 were orthopaedically disabled, 169 were blind and 109 were deaf.
In a 21st Century
Nation that supposedly passionately espouses ‘Sarva
Siksha’, i.e. Education for All, the fact that no
not 50 per cent or even 75 per cent; not even 90 per cent but rather, tragically
99.8 per cent of our disabled children and youth are without any education
evokes no reaction! Let me attempt to present this differently. If only a
mere 0.1 per cent to 0.2 per cent of the Indian disabled are educated, why
is it not a cause of concern? And when naked discrimination against Pooja
Saxena takes place, why no action is taken against
Padma Shri S.B. Majumdar and why
in spite of violating every law under The Disability Act, Symbiosis still
continues to receive the patronage of U.G.C. in the form of
turn our attention to the issue of access. To even think of a barrier-free
environment in a country such as
Our trains are
such where a wheelchair user like me can’t even enter the inside of a compartment.
I have often joked that in a way, Gandhiji was lucky to have at least entered inside the compartment
(of the train in
Again, the blind are no better off in the absence of braille signages, tactile surfaces, guiding blocks, voice enabled systems and so on – terms and concepts neither practised nor understood by the Great Indian Planner and Developer.
Therefore, if I go back now to my earlier point of how terribly important both education and access are to the life of any human being and more so to the life of a person with disability, it should not be too difficult to gauge as to how terribly our 60-70 million disabled men and women, boys and girls must be doing in Free and Modern India.
(To be continued)