Friday, 18 October 2013

Romania has a lot to teach us!

The Indian Government, courts, etc., have mastered the art of appearing to do good things, but in fact doing nothing. For instance:


The apex court directed the authorities to compile the number of vacancies in all their departments to give jobs to disabled persons under three per cent reserved quota within three months.

The bench said it is an "alarming reality" that disabled persons are not getting jobs because of various social barriers forcing them to live life in poverty and negligence.

It said the goverment has "categorical obligation" to protect the right of disabled persons and passed a slew of directions for providing jobs to the differently-abled.


On the other hand, something called the RPD (Reservation to the Persons with Disabilities) act says:

*32. Identification of posts which can be reserved for persons with
disabilities. -* Appropriate Governments shall -

   1. identify posts, in the establishments, which can be reserved for the
   persons with disability;
   2. at periodical intervals not exceeding three years, review the list of
   posts identified and up-date the list taking into consideration the
   developments in technology.

*33. Reservation of Posts - *Every appropriate Government shall appoint in
every establishment such percentage of vacancies not less than three per
cent. for persons or class of persons with disability of which one per
cent. each shall be reserved for persons suffering from-

   1. blindness or low vision;
   2. hearing impairment;
   3. locomotor disability or cerebral palsy, in the posts identified for
   each disability:

   Provided that the appropriate Government may, having regard to the type
   of work carried on in any department or establishment, by notification
   subject to such conditions, if any, as may be specified in such
   notification, exempt any establishment from the provisions of this section.


And the courts have been arguing ever since as to whether the 3% reservation refers to the existing body of all available vacancies for posts or only to those posts that the Government, in its wisdom, has identified as suitable posts for people with precisely the three kinds of disabilities which they have identified - by what wisdom, one wonders - as being worthy beneficiaries of their reservation policies. (The reason, for instance, that underlies the clubbing into one, of the two kinds of disability in class 3, is beyond my feeble intellect!)  Thus, if there are 1000 vacancies, of which only 200 posts have been identified as posts that can be filled with PwD, the argument is whether, for instance, a person with hearing impairment can hope to get one of the 10 or the 2 jobs reserved for her kind of disability!


Romania, in contrast, and inspite of being much poorer than India, has two impressive arrows in her quiver, one of which has taught me a lot, and the other should teach our administrators a lot:

  1. She has produced an incredibly large number of people doing state-of-the-art work in Operator Algebras (my area of specialisation in mathematics).
  2. (According to a cousin of mine who has been working for some years in Romania) she follows the rule that "employers must employ one disabled person for every 22 employees or must pay to the dedicated fund the mean salary of one employee for every 22 employed. Also public transport is disabled friendly".

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Public servants or masters of the public?

How is this for a classic case of deflecting your work to other people for whom you are supposed to be doing the work? One of the people in my group of disability activists sent this mail to all members of the group:

During a conversation with the Chennai DDRO (district disability rehab officer), she asked us to provide a list of govt buildings in chennai that is very frequently used by PWDs, so that she would work on making them accessible in the first phase. She said she would look into the accessible features of all other Govt buildings in second phase and all public building as third phase. It sounded sensible to me.

Could you all suggest the govt buildings that PWDs frequently use in Chennai so that we could collate and come up with a list that could be handed over to DDRO.

I totally disagree with my colleague's finding this `sensible'. We all know how bureaucrats treat random disabled people who walk/wheel/crawl into their office and ask inconvenient questions. On the other hand, if the secretary of a senior officer with an impressive title like DDRO, calls somebody like the Postmaster of a local Post Office, or the manager of a local branch of a nationalised bank, and says that the details to specific questions addressing the accessability of their post office/bank have to urgently be made available to the DDRO in 48 hours vide GO 248/17/10/13 subsection (vii)(a), we can make a good guess as to the reaction!

Is it not the JOB of this DDRO to find out which govt. buildings need to be periodically visited by PwD, and make a serious study of accessibility features such as ramps, elevators, braille markings at judicious places, etc., etc - rather than asking a handicapped person to possibly crawl up steps, find out the usability of toilet facilities, etc. 

As somebody recently said, disabled people should brand themselves as a disadvantaged minority and demand of these government officials to put their money where their mouth is before hoping to be voted into power in the next elections. We must demand implementation of many of our rights that have been enacted in our law books rather than be the silly nice guys we are, attempting entreaties, pleas and reason with a bureaucracy which moves only when there is a pot of gold at the end of it all! Or as the Americans would say in their colourful way, the only way to get anywhere is through some serious kick-ass!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Mr. B.

My last post was about how some senior official of the UN promised all sorts of rosy future prospects for people with disability (PwD), while the ground reality that I could see in India was that several groups of optimistic people, who spent most waking moments trying to make the future better for PwD, kept running into the unyielding wall of mindless and bloody minded bureaucrats, who would not take a single decision about anything, when the buck could easily be passed elsewhere!

One such group of optimists (whose group I join in their periodic jousts with bureaucracy when I can get time away from the job I am paid to do - which is teaching post-graduate students, or trying to prove erudite theorems in my chosen area of specialisation in mathematics) had been trying for a while to tackle some of the many problems that PwD have with matters related to banking. Finally they managed to get an appointment with a senior officer (in Chennai) of the Reserve Bank of India, and the usual email went to all members of our group asking who would be willing and able to join in the hopeful expedition to RBI. It so happened that they had been given an appointment for precisely thr time when my class met, so I apologetically begged off. So finally only some three people went to see this RBI big shot, whom I will simply refer to as Mr. B (which you could think of as representing banker, bureaucrat, or any other appropriate favourite B-word of yours.

Within a couple of hours of the time of the appointment with Mr. B, one of the three crusaders dashed off the following crestfallenly drafted `minutes' of the meeting, for the consumption of all members of our group, which I reproduce verbatim but for substituting Mr. B for every occurrence of the B's name:

We provided a letter to him outlining our points and grievances, I have attached the same to this email. The minutes of the meeting are as follows:

1. With regard to the points regarding the access of banking facilities to
persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, Mr. B. stated that as it was a policy issue, it had to be dealt with at the head office level. He stated that the Regional Office had in fact sent a communication to the Head Office regarding the issue of the guardianship requirement. Smitha asked for the communication from the Regional Office to the Head Office, but Mr. B. expressed his regret that he could not share the same.

2. With regard to the compliance of Banks with the Master Circular of the RBI on Customer Service, more particularly points 9, 10 and 11 of the same, Mr. B. said that the RBI is facilitating an ongoing process of sensitization of Bank Officials to the needs of persons with disabilities. When we asked for the details of the same, we were assured that there was a process, however the details were not given to us.

3. When asked if Banks could be ordered to conduct disability audits, Mr. B. declined and said that this was not within the powers of the RBI Regional Office and such requests had to be escalated to the Head Office.

4. When asked if DRA could visit the accessible Banks and ATMs which list was provided to us by his office, Mr. B. declined and said that the RBI could not authorize any private entity to conduct audits of this nature. He said that this matter was best taken up with the Indian Banks Association, or with individual banks themselves.

5. When asked for the procedure with regard to individual complaints, Mr. B. advised us that individual complaints were best taken up with the Banks themselves through their redressal mechanism. In case that failed, the office of the Ombudsman could be approached.

6. With regard to the request to participate in sensitization programmes and for the RBI to organize consultations in association with persons with disabilities, Mr. B. said that he was not authorized to do this at the regional level and that the matter would have to be escalated to the Head Office.

By a strange coincidence, I had a brilliant and free-thinking engineer uncle whom we used to refer to as Herr B because of his love for German efficiency as contrasted with his hatred for `bloody-minded Indian bureaucrats' such as our `Mr. B.' whose breed he would have feelingly referred to as untermenschen.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Words, words, words....

There is a song in My Fair Lady which goes

Words, words, words.
I get words all day through,
First from him, now from you...

That is what the following statement by the UN Secretary-General at the High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on Disability and Development on New York, 23 September 2013 reminds me of! I, and at least twenty groups of `disability avtivists' have been spending most of our living moments toiling towards achieving some of the inclusivity spoken of below by talking to unsympathetic government officials (for the most part), and I see zero proof of any of that having any effect. Now see what the UN Secretary-General has to say - and imgine how soothing it would be to an amputee without legs living in Amritsar, for instance! (Don't get me wrong; I also have been a fan of Stevie Wonder ever since Boogie on Reggae Woman.)

This is the most important period of the year at the United Nations.

Leaders from around the globe are gathering to focus on peace and security, development and human rights.

I believe there is no better way to begin this momentous week than with this historic High-level Meeting.

I want to extend my warmest welcome to all of you -- especially persons with disabilities and their representative organizations.  Thank you for bringing your strength and energy.

Together, we are here to break barriers and open doors.

We are here to forge the way forward and build a disability-inclusive development agenda towards 2015 and beyond.

Disability is part of the human condition; almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in life.

More than 1 billion persons live with some form of disability.  Eighty percent are of working age; 80 per cent live in developing countries. Yet far too many people with disabilities live in poverty.

Too many suffer from social exclusion. Too many are denied access to education, employment, health care, and social and legal support systems.

Women and girls with disabilities often experience double discrimination – and so we must emphasize the gender dimensions of a disability-inclusive development agenda.

All of us suffer when communities are divided; just as all of us benefit when communities are united.

The International Labour Organization found that excluding persons with disabilities from the labour market in some low- and middle-income countries costs economies as much as 7 per cent of Gross Domestic Product.

We must remove barriers to equality of opportunity so that all people can be free from poverty and discrimination.

Let us proclaim in the loudest voice possible: Disability is not inability.

As I said in my report A Life of Dignity for All, persons with disabilities are integral to our forward march towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals and shaping the post-2015 agenda.

The landmark Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a powerful tool for inclusive development.

I urge all countries to ratify it without delay.

I know you agree with me and Stevie Wonder -- we need it signed, sealed and delivered!

And we need more.

We must further strengthen the international normative framework on disability and development.

We must build capacity and improve data and statistics on persons with disabilities.

We must act now to remove barriers to access to physical environments, transportation and information and communications.

And we must not only lift the physical barriers – but also the barriers in attitudes that fuel stigma and discrimination.

You are here to do more than change laws or policies or regulations.

Ultimately, you are here to make sure every member of the human family has a chance to live their lives fully.

I think of the director of a programme for special needs children in Haiti who said “you should see the children’s faces when they put on their uniforms—money couldn’t buy the feeling of happiness.”

I think of the young football players I met in Sierra Leone a few years
ago.  Their limbs had been amputated during the war. And yet, there they were, playing soccer.  To my eyes, they were even better than the World Cup soccer players.

I think of the Syrian mother in a refugee camp who finally received a wheelchair for her daughter with disabilities.  She said “Now we can take her to see the doctor…now we can take her out.  She has a right to see the sun.”

Everyone has the right to  … to score their own goals … to see the sun … and expand their horizons.

That is why you are here.  That is your message and mission.

I am proud to be at your side.

Together, let us turn a new page in the history of the United Nations by giving full meaning to the outcome document of this meeting.

Let us work together so everyone, everywhere has the chance to live their dreams and use the gifts that they have been given.

Let us advance disability-inclusive development, inspire change on the ground and ensure a life of dignity for all.

I thank you.

Sometimes, I go through these bouts of frustration and feel like screaming to our law-makers: Why don't you stop talking, and instead put your money where your mouth is, and enforce all the high-faluting laws you have passed decades ago?