Thousands gathered to protest, but not a single sound was audible, barring the random tread of footsteps.
Silent yet resolute, and cutting across barriers of state, gender and disability, over 15,000 differently-abled people from all over the country descended at India Gate on Monday, demanding that the government table and pass the long-awaited Disability Rights Bill.
“India was one of the first countries to ratify the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), but more than seven years later, an effective Bill on challenged people still remains to be passed. The recent amendments not only militated against the UN convention, but were a totally ‘watered down’ version of what the Ministry of Social Justice had put up on its website. We want the government to table the Bill in Parliament after addressing our specific concerns, and ensure it is passed,” Javed Abidi, convenor of the Disability Rights Group, said.
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“The government can no longer ignore the voice of 70 million of its citizens. We are not asking for charity, but fighting for our rights. And we will not leave from here till we are assured of action,” Aqeel Ahmed, who came from Uttar Pradesh to attend the rally, said.
While people from different states protested at India Gate, office-bearers met officials from ministries concerned to arrive at a consensus. “A list of 20 non-negotiable demands were submitted to the ministries. We have been assured that many of them will be met. We have also been assured by the political establishment that the Bill will be tabled on Wednesday,” Abidi said.
“I am from a poor background and cannot afford the expensive treatment my son needs. But the new Bill, when passed, will make life easier for him. That is why I’m here,” Anita Gautam, from the Parents’ Association for the Empowerment of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities, said.
The Bill, modelled on the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, looks at changing the definition of ‘disability’ from the prevalent medical viewpoint to a social one, and raising the quota of government jobs reserved for such people from three to five per cent. It also makes private companies accountable for creating a friendly environment for such employees and visitors.
“If passed, it will be the first rights-based legislation for challenged people passed by Parliament. For long, there has been no political will to do anything for the rights of such people. It is high time that the government acts, even if it because of a protest rally. The 70 million challenged people will be thankful to it,” Mukesh Gupta, who runs schools for special children in Delhi and Faridabad, said.