Following protests from disability rights groups against India’s discriminatory Haj guidelines, the Ministry of Minority Affairs has decided to lift its ban on persons with disabilities from applying for the pilgrimage.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said: “These guidelines have been in place for the last 60 years or so. Maybe, Saudi Arabia had certain restrictions. However, from this year on, we will allow persons with disabilities to apply for Haj.”
The ministry has directed the Haj Committee of India, which facilitates and subsidises the pilgrimage, to align its 2018-2022 guidelines in keeping with the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. The Indian Express has reported last week how the Haj Committee’s guidelines state that “persons whose legs are amputated, who are crippled, handicapped, lunatic or otherwise physically/ mentally incapacitated” cannot apply for Haj. The ministry has already taken down the offensive clause from its website and replaced it with the line: “This clause of eligibility is under review”.
On the demand for certain reserved quota for those with disabilities, on the same lines as the Haj quota for the elderly, Naqvi said the ministry will study “whether such a quota can be permitted as per Haj rules of Saudi Arabia” and take a call on the matter.
The 2018-2022 guidelines were issued based on a review committee’s October 2017 report, which retained the clauses that banned persons with disabilities from applying for Haj.
On Friday, a delegation of disability rights activists led by Muralidharan, secretary of the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled, along with Rajya Sabha MP from CPI (M) TK Rangarajan met Naqvi to raise the issue. “The Minister said this ban has existed for years and no one has ever paid any heed to it. Now that it has been brought to their notice, they will rectify it,” said Muralidharan.
Disability rights groups had written to Naqvi asking him to review the eligibility criteria under New Haj Policy 2018-2022, also pointing out that the terminology used to refer to those with physical and mental disabilities is “abusive and derogatory”.
The Haj guidelines also prohibit “Those afflicted with polio, tuberculosis, congestive cardiac & respiratory ailment, acute coronary insufficiency, coronary thrombosis, mental disorder, infectious leprosy, AIDS or any other communicable disease / disability”.
The letter stated that these provisions do not only violate the Rights of Persons with Disability legislation but also that Saudi Arabia has over the years enhanced the facilities provided to the elderly and the disabled.
In his letter dated January 4, 2018, Naqvi informed Rajya Sabha MP Rangarajan that all these matters are being examined by the Ministry and that “corrective action is being taken”. “The minister said that the issue will be discussed with Saudi Arabia if necessary. He has given an assurance that those with disabilities will be permitted to go for Haj,” said Rangarajan.