Saturday, 22 February 2014

Pepper spray and all that

That which I had been dreading and writing about in the last few posts - the possible passage of the regressive RPWD Bill 2014 - was not allowed to take place because of the utter chaos that exists in our parliament. All but four days of the past week (the last one for this possibly last session in the tenure of the current ruling party) were devoted to the contentious Telengana bill. Typically, the house would be convened, and immediately a motley crew of parliamentarians would run into `the well', flash slogans and generally create such a din that you could not hear anything the speaker was trying to say, until, after about 3 minutes of this theatre of the absurd, the speaker would adjourn the house for anything between a half an hour and half a day. In the last few minutes of the sitting on Thursday, the Telengana Bill was passed: this is a contentious separationist bill, which faces strong views for and against; and a state gets split into pieces in a far from unanimous fashion by our great democracy. And what had been aired was that five more bills - each important in its own right - were going to be passsed on the final day of the session. To my unadulterated glee and those in my camp (that of the Pandavas according to the analogy drawn in my last post), the RPWD Bill was referred to a parliamentary standing committee for further study while two of those five bills were passed on friday. So we still have a chance to have our legal minds draft a really inclusive version of the bill in the spirit of the UNCRPD - not because of any good sense, but because of the completely atrocious behaviour of our parliamentarians: one enthusuast even used a `pepper spray in the house' resulting in several people rushing out of the house with bleeding noses and sundry ill-effects'.

I saw the TV news channels closely on friday evening, when NDTV again ran one of its shows with several invited panelists, including the pepper spray merchant, and people were bemoaning the utter depths to which decorum in the house had descended. To me it seems the solution is simple: have some five or ten bouncers (of the kind used in bars and rock concerts, and when somebody repeats an offense after having been once warned, the speaker should just direct the bouncers to evict the offending perfson for the rest of the day, with anyone who ha been so evicted more than once should lose his/her seat in the house. Surely this kind of behaviour would not be permitted in a court of law! (When that happens, it is time retire to a hermit's life in the mountains/forests.)

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The loaded dice

The analogy between efforts of the factions against and for passage of the RPWD Bill 2014 on the one hand, and Yudhishtira and Sakuni playing dice on the other, is not entirely out of place.

One side is trying to preserve at least what they have, and the other is trying to deprive the others of what they already have.

One side has almost been denied any access to publicising their cause; while the press constantly strives to convey the impression that only the second faction exists.

In a show of fair and equal debate, NDTV has a show with six people on show, more or less equally divided numerically between the two groups, but the loaded die has been cast: the compere opens the discussion by inviting the opinion of the leader of the pro-bill faction  and he is given free rein to air his views, while you can see some representatives of the other group straining at the leash, wanting to contest statements being made by the `leader'. When he is through, the compere solicits the opinion of a speaker of the other camp, and just as this lady lawyer is going through her list of reasons for opposing the bill, the leader who has already been allowed to say his piece uninterrupted butts in with his objections contrary to accepted protocol in a debate. One of the anti-bill panelists is never invited to say anything, and is heard only when he has to shout out his opinion in one of the free-for-all shouting matches that later ensues; and the last panelist to be invited to speak is a mother of a child suffering one form of disability that the latest draft of the Bill has included in its definition of a `Person with Disablity' - the implication being that not passing this bill will break this mother's heart. While one wouldn't want to break one heart (by denying her son the virtual and exaggerated benefits of this inclusion), what about the large number of people diagnosed with some form of mental illness being disallowed the right to make legally binding decisions on their own behalf?

The newspapers have been equally biased in their coverage of this bill: they only cite `the leader' as he states his side via a series of half-truths and disinformation.

One only hears what `the leader' has to say, ad nauseum. He says this bill will be a game-changer and that `only the blind groups are opposed to the bill'. Will a hearing impaired person not oppose the fact that `sign language' is never explicitly recognised in the bill as a language? 

Little or no press coverage is given to the fact that the law university NALSAR has come out openly to denounce this bill as a seriously flawed bill. Lawrence Liang of the Law School in Bangalore and Amba Salelkar are two other lawyers who have been lucky enough to find some paper to publish their similar denunciations. I am yet to see a single legal opinion favouring this bill. Is there a lawyer in the other camp? I wonder!

I am sorry to have kept harping on this bill for many consecutive posts; the reason for today's post is that there is a real likelihood of this bill being part of a bundle of 5 bills that the ruling partry has been threatening to pass today, and I am hurriedly posting this in the hope that some legislator might amuse himself by looking at fb during the frequent adjournments of the Rajya Sabha, and see this! Clutching at straws? No choice really.

Oh! a final point in common: good versus bad!

Friday, 7 February 2014

In memoriam - RC and RPD

February 7th is a day with a history of dealing death blows to aspirations of people with disabilities (PWD):

It started a year ago when a cruel freak infection caused the death due to septicaemia of Rahul Cherian, a universally respected and loved lawyer and staunch supporter of the rights of PWD. His achievements and what he gave to the world and lives of PWD are immeasurable. One of his many legacies to us is the institution Inclusive Planet Centre for Disability and Policy that he co-founded; his wonderful institution's work is being carried on by Amba Salelkar who admits with pride that RC was her friend, philosopher and guide. She says her mentor taught her that  we need to be transparent ourselves if we expect transparency from others; a measure of how well RC taught her this dictum is the manner in which she she has been unraveling for the legally less astute among us of the inherent flaws that are everywhere dense in the current RPD Bill 2014. (This draconian Bill which has had versions labeled 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, the last two of which were never made available for inspection by the stakeholders before they became fait accompli.) There has been a continuous stream of tributes to and gratitude for her elucidation of the legal nuances of the omissions and the commissions of errors in this new Bill, the resistance to whose passage has been wonderfully spearheaded by her with the assistance of numerous other friends of RC.

One of my favourite Rahul quotes is: we are not disability activists; we are from the land of Gandhi; we are freedom fighters. This current fight will be dealt a TKO (technical knockout, for people unfamiliar with boxing parlance) if this Bill which was, by a cruel blow of Fate, introduced in the Rajya Sabha on this February 7th, is allowed to be passed by the houses. (In fact, it was her remark on this terrible coincidence in an email earlier today that got me thinking of writing this tribute to her ever-cheerful attitude to this campaign she is directing.)

But Rahul trains his wards well. I have no doubt that if this wretched Bill does get passed, Amba will not rest till she leads her army of warriors until this Bill is annulled and a new version is drafted on a clean slate in conformity with the canons of the UNCRPD.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Bag of hot air from west to east

The USA and India have been referred to, usualy by themselves, as the two greatest dedmocracies in the world. They are both parties to the UNCRPD (the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities), whose Article 27.1 says about `Work and Employment' says:

States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others; this includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities. States Parties shall safeguard and promote the realization of the right to work, including for those who acquire a disability during the course of employment, by taking appropriate steps, including through legislation, ...

And here is what they have done towards this end:

USA: According to a report in Facebook on President Obama's State of the Union address, he said that he will issue an executive order mandating that federal contractors pay their workers no less than $10.10 per hour, while the plan apparently excludes people with disabilities who currently earn less than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. Employers — including many with federal government contracts — can obtain special permission from the U.S. Department of Labor to pay those with disabilities less than minimum wage under a provision that’s been in place since the 1930s.

India: A draft (circa 2011) in circulation of the so-caled Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 3% of Government jobs would be reserved for PWD, while apparently only 0.21% of the jobs have actually been given to PWD. And there is a new draft of RPD (version that saw light of day in late December 2013) which now promises 5% reservation of posts to PWD - but you should understand the way this formula is to be applied: some `higher wisdom' has identified which manner of jobs can be given to people with what kind of disability) and for each of those disabilities (exactly 5 of which have been identified), 1% of the identified jobs can be given to PWD - so will this `new improved' draft result in an improvement of the old 0.21% figure.