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Friday, September 17, 2021

Uttar Pradesh’s draft population bill has an ableism problem

Muralidharan writes: Apart from its coercive approach to population control, it plays into the widely prevalent notion of the disabled as a burden.

Written by Muralidharan |
Updated: July 27, 2021 7:58:01 am
UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath

Ramsagar is a resident of Noida. Of his three children, the oldest and the youngest are deaf. A trade union activist, Ramsagar, though he had heard of the proposed Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, was unaware of its contents, let alone the disability aspect. He was bemused when told that if the draft Bill is enacted into law, parents like him would not be seen in contravention of the two-child norm.

But he did ask what the status of his two disabled children would be, whether they would be counted as children at all. His queries were not misplaced.

That is precisely what Section 15 of the draft Bill would do, if enacted. The draft Bill, even while adopting a highly objectionable and coercive approach to population control, grants exemption to certain classes of individuals from the two-child norm. It lays down that, “… an action of an individual shall not be deemed to be in contravention of the two child norm under this Act, if either, or both, of his children born out of the earlier pregnancy suffer from disability and the couple conceives a third child subsequently”.


A clarification: One does not “suffer” from a disability, but rather because of it. But since that is not germane to this debate, we can leave it at that. It does, however, reflect poorly on the authors of the proposed Bill.

Section 15 adopts a pejorative, almost eugenic rationale. It seeks to invoke an ableist mindset and tends to view the disabled as non-existent and equivalent to being dead. It reinforces the belief of disability being a curse. The draft Bill underpins the preconceived but widely prevalent notion of incapability or incapacity of all persons with disabilities while underlining that having a disabled child is as good as not having one at all. It views the disabled as a burden. This is despite people like IAS officer Ira Singhal and many others proving that they can overcome hurdles, both societal and structural.

Unfortunate instances of parents killing their disabled children do make news once in a while. It is the abject failure of the state to provide adequate social security and other protective measures that lead desperate parents to take such a drastic step. It also compels individual parents and society at large to think in terms of opting for another child, who they presume will be able-bodied and provide support to the family.

The Bill draws from the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 to define disability. There are 21 conditions listed in the Act. These include impairments like visual, hearing and speech, locomotor, intellectual disabilities as also blood disorders and learning disabilities like dyslexia.

The way disability is dealt with in the draft Bill shows a complete lack of understanding of what constitutes a disability as also its heterogeneous status. It reflects sadly on how the state views persons with disabilities. There is a total disregard of the thrust of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which India ratified, as also the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. In fact, the UP draft Bill is in complete contravention of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The UNCRPD in its preamble emphasises mainstreaming disability and “respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity”. The draft Bill negates this understanding and turns it on its head.

Among the few other states that have legislated a two-child norm, Rajasthan adopts an approach similar to the UP draft Bill. The 2017 Assam population policy also advocates a similar position.

What the proposed UP Bill does is promote a form of eugenics. We must not forget that Aktion T4: Eugenics provided the rationale for stigmatising, devaluing and killing the disabled.

The UP draft Bill seeks to codify and institutionalise an ableist mindset. It stigmatises and devalues the disabled as lesser beings. Apart from its regressive, anti-poor and anti-women nature, it should also be opposed for reinforcing an ableist mindset.

It is no coincidence that Section 15 of the draft Bill is titled, “Of Death or Disability of Child”. It equates the two.

This column first appeared in the print edition on July 27, 2021 under the title ‘An ableist proposal’. The writer is general secretary of the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled

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