January 17, 2014 3:00:32 am
The new disabilities bill could help enshrine a more modern understanding of the issue.
In India, the battle for the rights of persons with disabilities has been long and difficult, running up against institutional myopia and social apathy at every step. So Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s announcement on Wednesday that the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill would be tabled for passage in Parliament in the next session should be heartening news for nearly 100 million persons with disabilities. If UPA 2 does indeed manage to prioritise and pass the bill in its last, much abbreviated session, it would be a rare moment of institutional empathy for some of the most vulnerable sections of society.
In recent years, the discourse on disability has shifted from charity and welfare to rights and entitlements. The new bill seeks to enshrine a more modern understanding of the issue, in keeping with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by India. This means ensuring a range of economic, political, cultural and legal rights for such persons, as well as addressing social attitudes that have kept them marginalised for so long. Under the new bill, persons with disabilities would have greater legal access and control over their finances. It also seeks to enable political participation, laying down that no person would be disqualified from voting on the grounds of disability. Providing for a 5 per cent reservation of public sector jobs and urging an inclusive educational framework that would absorb children with special needs, it aims to integrate such persons with the mainstream.
Though well-intentioned, the aims of the new legislation would have to be supported by adequate infrastructure. Finally, the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunity Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act of 1995 had faltered in the crucial stage of implementation. The new law, if it comes into being, should not meet the fate of its predecessor.
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