“Disability is a class ill itself that any one may fall victim at any time. It call come about as a result of a sudden accident, a fall down a flight of stairs or disease. Disability maintains no socio-economic boundaries. Since disability catches up with most people ill its fold ill old age, it is a class that any of us may fall ill it someday.”
Even today the disabled in India see their physical or mental limitations as either a source of shame or a source of inspiration for others. By concentrating on overcoming the disability, we fail to notice that a disability itself cannot be overcome by a disabled person, however, heroic she or he may be. In the West, the Disability Rights Movement has realized this and, therefore, they proclaim that “it is okay, even good, to be disabled”.
The Disability Rights Movement:
Unlike other movements like Feminism or Lesbian Movements which have distinct agendas of either gender justice or the right to sexual orientation, the Disability Rights Movement does not have systematic path. Disability Rights Movement even in the West has a very recent origin and tries to draw strength from the traditional legal order rather than by critiquing or deconstructing it. Joseph Shapiro neatly summarizes the characteristics of this movement in the West: “The disability movement is a mosaic movement for the 1990s. Diversity is its critical characteristic. No leader or organization can claim to speak for all the disabled”.
The Disability Rights Movement in India and in Third World countries is discursive and disorganized and there is no written documents to trace its origin, Instead of coming together, sections of disabled viz. blind persons, persons with physical disability, deaf and dumb persons and those with mental disabilities hare launched their movements and struggles separately, mainly through NGOs. It was all the much difficult for all disabled groups to come together with the stupendous diversities in their problems. Two important reasons can be assigned for such a scenario. Firstly, in our country, the disabled are bound to struggle to fulfill the basic needs like food, shelter and education and therefore, they are bound to be disable specific in their struggles. Secondly, the Advocates of Disability Rights in India do not have any coherence in their agenda, some stress solely on Rehabilitation and Research, others are solely concerned with generation of employment and still others are wholly occupied by efforts in the education sector. A few in India ever talk of about the’ Civil Rights’ or ‘Crisis of Identity’ of the disabled. Under such circumstances the various groups have to work segregated, and so they could not come together chalk out a common agenda.
Actually in India the Disability Rights Movement has been launched by NGOs and therefore, a large number of NGOs have mushroomed all over the country. Instead of working together to strengthen the movement, there is often seen unwarranted and unhealthy rivalry between NGOs . Similar conflicts was also noted across different sections of the disabled. While there are a number of organizations making serious rehabilitation efforts and genuinely working for the upliftment of the disabled there are also NGOs that are simply cashing in on the cause just trying to pocket the funds and doing nothing for the disabled.
Assumptions about the disabled:
Some stereotyped presumptions prevailed about the disabled in our country like:
1. Disabled people are the most vulnerable section of society and have been ignored by state and society alike since long.
2. Disabled people have always been dependent and, therefore, need helping . hands and gracious charity.
Disabled people are victims of their own bad luck.
Disableness is the punishment for sins he has never committed in this life.
Such assumptions about the disabled do nothing to help them. This approach perpetuates the stereotype of the disabled as victims and objects of pity and charity.
Persons with disability are considered to have a very small sphere to operate within owing to their limitations. So if a disabled person achieves something beyond his/her small ‘sphere’ he/she is considered to have almost overcome his /her disability. He/She is then presented as a role model and a source of inspiration for the non-disabled community even. This image hits the average disabled person very hard who does not have the capacity to live up to such heroic standards. Average disabled people tend to compare their’ little successes’ to the’ large successes, of his fellow disabled. This leads to an inferiority complex among them.
Government’s Solace for the disabled:
Until 1995 there was no law that even defined discrimination against people with disabilities. It is only with the ‘Persons with Disabilities Act,’ passed in 1995 that discrimination specifically against persons with disabilities came under the purview of the law.
Till 1995, most of the welfare measures taken by the States were by way of affirmative action. The Ministry of Social Welfare was largely concerned with problems of persons with disability and with providing them privileges. Rehabilitation of people with disability by opening shelter workshops and educational and research institutions like the National Institute of Visually Handicapped, Dehra Dun, the National Institute for the Mentally Handicapped, Secunderabad, the National Institute for the Orthopedically Handicapped, Calcutta and the Ali Anwar Jung National Institute for Hearing Handicapped, Mumbai providing basic education to individuals with disability by funding NGOs, opening special schools and awarding scholarships for students with disability, providing employment through job reservations mainly in Class 3 and 4 in Central and State Government Departments and giving disabled people travel concessions and installing awards for disabled workers and institutions working for the welfare of the disabled. During early 80′ s some major developments in the International Disability Rights Movement brought about a change in the attitude of the Government of India. The first earnest sign was the enactment of the “Mental Health Act, 1987”. The Act is aimed at protecting mentally ill persons in matters of admission and detention in psychiatric hospitals and the custody of his/her persons, his/her property and its management and human rights.
Persons with Disabilities Act 1995
A meeting was convened by the Economic and Social Commission for the Asia· Pacific region in Beijing in December 1992 to launch the Asia-Pacific decade of disabled persons. The meeting declared 1993-2000 as the Asia-Pacific decade and proclaimed the “full participation and equality of people with disabilities” as the objective. To give legislative effect to the above proclamation, the ‘Persons wit~ Disabilities (Equal Opportunity, Protection of Civil Rights, and Full Participation) Act was enacted in India in 1995 and came into force on 1st January 1996.
Objectives of the Act:
1.To spell out the responsibility of the State towards the prevention of disabilities. protection of rights, provision of medical care, education, training, employment and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities.
2. To create a barrier-free environment for disabled persons.
3. To remove any discrimination against disabled people in the sharing of developed benefits for non-disabled persons.
4. To counteract any situation of abuse and the exploitation of disabled persons.
5. To lay down strategies for the development of comprehensive programmes services and the equalization of opportunities for disabled persons.
6. To make special provisions for the integration of persons with disabilities into social mainstream.
A close study of the Act makes us feel “as if the Government is a gracious donor and disabled persons are absolute dependents”. This is a major stumbling block in the process of providing equal opportunities to the disabled. Instead of focusing on the capabilities of disabled people, the Act focuses very much on activity limitations of the disabled and perpetuates the victim image of disabled people.
Unfortunately the Act does not pay any serious attention to securing some basic rights like the right to human dignity, right to equal concern and respect, right against discrimination in public employment and educational institutions, right against exploitation, right against victimization etc.
The Act has completely ignored some vital aspects such as: Pre-school education of disabled children, special problems of the parents of the disabled, special problems of the female disabled, games, sports and cultural activities, exploitation of disabled by their own families, higher education of the disabled.
Although the implement of the Act has been gradual, it does not mean that the Act has not helped the disabled at all. It has provided a platform to unite and mobilize disabled individuals across the country. It is also significant to witness the participation of the disabled in decision-making processes through their representation in various policy making and shaping bodies under the Act.
The success of this Act would, however, depend much upon the extent to which the political leaders and bureaucratic executive internalizes the values, sensibilities and goals enshrined in the Act. If persons with disability are to be regarded as full citizens of India, their right to equal concern and respect must find its expression in the supreme law of the land.