Monday, 27 January 2014

The Jekyll and Hyde bill

What follows is a portrayal of the facts regarding the chasm that has opened within the `disability sector' in India so the reader can form an independent opinion. (I am sorry for going on an on talking about this matter, but it is of prime importance to me and several friends of mine and this is a crucial stage.)

In December 2006, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the UNCRPD (or the UN Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities), which sought (a) to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities; it gave an inclusive definition of `persons with disabilities; (b)  an unconditional Right to Equality and Non Discrimination to all persons with disabilities, on par with others; (c) recognition of legal capacity for all persons with disabilities, and recognition that persons with disabilities enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life; (d) to categorically state that non-consensual institutionalization of persons with disabilities is violative of Article 14; etc.,etc., (with the general attitude being extremely inclusive and sensitive). 

In October 2007, India became a signatory to this convention. Already, India had enacted a Persons with Disabilities Act in 1995 which reads great on paper, but has been toothless to implement till today because of ambiguous language and convenient escape clauses. In an attempt to make the UNCRPD dream a reality, an effort was initiated in 2009 to draft a Right to Disabilities Bill at which time several people and organisations were involved in the drafting, who stressed that certain matters should be absolutely non-negotiable; and when there was some resistance to including this `non-negotiable list', at least three people resigned from the drafting committee. This attempt to create and push a suitable RPD Bill continued for some years and made periodic signs – in 2012 (when an actual draft was made, which already had some critical responses), and  in 2013 (when some noises were made but no draft was sighted) - of coming into being but suddenly in December 2013, there were campaigns in the social media to have the RPD Bill tabled and passed before the elections and possible emergence of a new government. There was an unseemly haste to have this Bill passed before a draft was even made available for inspection.

And now we hear the UPA stating that it is committed to tabling and passing the RPD Bill in the budget session, and this `Bill' has not been made available for public scrutiny. When one finally got to see this Bill after much ferreting around, one finds that there are so many divergences – in word and spirit – between this RPD Bill of 2014 and the UNCRPD, that several organisations of the Disability sector have been asking that `this Bill be immediately scrapped' while some die-hards in Delhi are still trying to push the bill through for unfathomable reasons. Here are some of those divergences that have caused all the anger, bitterness and sense of betrayal among the former brand of disability activists:

This Bill has compromised on just about everything imaginable: the definition of a PWD: stressing on `prevention of disabilities'; lack of effective means of implementation of rights under the convention; waiving the right to not be discriminated against on the grounds of disability if it is shown that the impugned act or omission is appropriate to achieving a legitimate aim; the rights of PWD to facilities in bus stops, trains and airports is trivialised to a bare minimum; it limits mandatory observance of accessibility norms only to “establishments”, defined in a very limited and restricted way, thereby excluding a large number of buildings from its purview; appoints `Limited guardians' for persons who are declared to be mentally ill and incapable of taking care of themselves and making legally binding decisions for themselves., adding that  the limited guardian shall take all legally binding decisions on his or her behalf, in consultation with that person; creates a category of persons with “high support needs”   on behalf of whom an Assessment Board can make decisions; all mention of women with disabilities has been removed from the 2011 Draft of the Bill which was modelled on the UNCRPD'; lest you think this was a small oversight, articles numbered 6,7,8,10, 12 and 13 have been removed in their entirety. I hope I have conveyed the desired impression, viz. that it is more a bill of denied rights. I could go on and on; the list of commissions and omissions goes on and on, ad nauseum.

In response to every set of objections raised by some disability activists, the Delhi gang responds with yet another cosmetically altered version which will still deprive large sections of disabled people, leading one to think that the only possible raison d'etre for persisting with this non-starter could be increasing the political clout of a few among the Delhi group and bolstering the sagging reputation of assorted political parties who might be party to this exercise.

1 comment:

  1. Sir,

    It is great to see voices such as yours putting definitive thoughts into words. It really adds value to the arguments that are being made against the bill.

    But, your article doesn't raise the concerns in a specific, targeted or a structured manner, which then can be taken up by a lot activists and corporates in the system. If these arguments comes from somebody such as you in a more structured manner, it would carry atmost weight when channelled through the right sources.

    If need be, i can work with you in writing a structure 'policy response' on the glaring loopholes this bill has.

    Thanking you