Evolution of Disability Rights in India

Evolution of disability rights in India: How far have we reached at 75?

15th August 1947 can proudly be attributed as the date of India’s birth as a nation which could travel on the path of social, economic and political transformation without any external intervention. The spirit of unity, diversity and equal opportunities became the pillars on which we the Indians chose to develop our edifice. As we commenced our journey toward an Independent India, the song of unity in diversity gained wide popularity. Its acceptance, however, can be questioned on the ground that certain marginalised sections of the society were facing discrimination and exclusion in various forms and their talk remained confined for a period which extended for more than 2 decades.

The discrimination and exclusion are enduring in Indian society nevertheless we can say with our heads held high that the severity of the same has decreased exponentially. One of the significant groups that deserve special attention on this indelible occasion is persons with disabilities.

 

The First Seeds of the Movement

The year 1970 witnessed the first self-advocacy movement by the organised blind. One of the most pressing demands of this movement was in relation to the employment of the blind. This movement achieved a milestone when an office memorandum of the government in 1977 provided reservations in categories C and D of Government jobs to blind people. This office memorandum proved counterproductive until the late 1980s when contentious political activities led to the implementation of the same opening doors to hundreds of people with blindness in government jobs. During this time, the recommendations of the Justice Baharul Islam Committee for a law on disability also gave a boost to the movement.

 

Developments at the International Stage

Some of the crucial reasons for the awakening of the Government towards the interests and welfare of persons with disabilities could be the developments made at the international level. A significant development was the UN decade for disabled persons from 1983-92. Some other initiatives that served as documents for recognition, upliftment and empowerment of the lives of persons with disabilities include Rio de Janeiro Conference on Environment and Development  1992, World Conference on human rights  1993, and the International conference on population and development 1994 to name a few.

One significant drawback of the disability rights movement till the early 1990s was the absence of the cross-disability platform. Gradually persons with different disabilities started associating with the movement, which led to the passage of an Act for persons with disabilities in 1995.

The act paved a way for disabled persons to demand their rights in a united, synchronised and organised manner. The act also served as a tool for conscious awareness for other government agencies such as the judiciary and the executive.  By doing so, it opened the avenues for persons with disabilities from a human-rights perspective by involving the issues such as education, employment, grievance redressal, equal opportunities and so on and so forth.

India’s signing and ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007 gave disabled Indians an opportunity to ask for the realisation of their rights more broadly and inclusively. The advocacy techniques for the new movement are now backed by the introduction of accessible information and technology communication mediums. However, the struggle persists for a united front and most importantly for the representation of the issues of the disabled people by the persons with disabilities themselves. There is nothing about us, without us!

RPWD Act – a new era?

The year 2016 saw the passage of the new law on disability in India – the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016. This act embarks upon a new journey of dignity, accessibility and inclusivity for persons with disabilities. The advocacy techniques of the disability rights movement may have evolved, and the issues may have changed,  but what remains is the struggle for implementation of the rights. A social movement is a sustained collective action over a period of time that aids the people to realise and enjoy their rights in any nation.

As we are entering the Amrut Kal now, we hope that after 25 years when we the Indians will be celebrating the centenary of the Indian Independence an inclusive, accessible and equal India will be praised throughout the world.

 

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