The Union Home Ministry last week finally issued guidelines for the disabled to show respect to the National Anthem, following Supreme Court exempting disabled persons who cannot stand from the rule requiring all to stand while the anthem plays at the start of each movie screening.
Unfortunately, like the original November 30 SC mandate – which indiscreetly failed to include an exemption clause for the disabled – even the guidelines prescribed are in character with the general apathy of Indian governments towards persons with disabilities.
The directives suggest that wheelchair users and people with locomotor disability should not move and position themselves “maintaining the maximum possible attentiveness and alertness physically”. For other disabilities, it added that “persons with mild intellectual disability can be trained to understand and respect the national anthem”, along with those suffering from auditory and visual impairments. Relaxation would be considered for those with more than ‘mild’ intellectual disability, the criteria for which is clumsily listed out further. Will this ensure safety? The short answer is no. The guidelines loosely recommend that “wide publicity may be given to generate public awareness in this regard to avoid any unwarranted incident”, placing the onus of safeguarding themselves on the individuals or their caretakers.
From the various reported acts of violence over this in movie theatres, we already know that anything less than proving one’s patriotism through due performance can be injurious to health and well being. Anyone can feel righteous for taking the law into their hands when passions are aroused and endorsed through a ruling by the highest judicial authority of the country. People in the disabled community have raised valid questions about what in the public eye would constitute ‘alert’ enough? I am unsure if trouble makers and overzealous nationalists would always pause to consider who among the disabled was ‘trainable’ and who was not.
Further, the unequal expectations of the state from persons with disability arouses indignance. Trushaa Castelino, who draws upon a disabled parent’s experience, reacts to the insensitivity inherent in the idea of ‘training’ to ‘show respect’:
“Let’s talk about training”, she writes on Medium.com, “How about you train people not to shove my mother out of the way when entering or exiting elevators? How about you train politicians not to treat her handicapped parking spaces like VIP slots? How about you teach airport security not to forget that she also has dignity, that they can’t ask her to “take off [her] pants” wherever they want? How about you train grown-ass adults to stand behind, to fight for, their friends? How about you train people to stop treating people with disabilities like they’re “ugly” or “stupid”? How about you train corporations to stop discriminating in their hiring practices? How about you AT LEAST make government offices accessible!?”
If anything, the issued guidelines raise the question of lopsided priorities where national symbols like the anthem have been pitted against a basic dignity that the authorities cannot afford to some of its lawful citizens. What have we the nation done to ensure basic respect for the disabled?
How to position for the national anthem in cinema halls is one situation, but there are hundreds of situations that people with disabilities face in day-to-day lives where they encounter ignorance, ridiculous questions and patronising attitudes. Disabled people even get told that the truly devotional or the truly patriotic won’t let their disability stand in the way, shares Castelino.
It is an embarrassment that even the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act has been passed at late as in 2016, after languishing in the Parliament for years. The fact remains that if a disabled person is unfairly or ‘unwittingly’ targeted – few persons or laws could be counted upon to defend them from getting harassed or hurt. There is little push or deliberation for their grievance redressal.
Back to the guidelines, is it just a matter of poor wording or is it indicative of an apathetic attitude? You decide.
The full guidelines for the disabled can be read at http://www.disabilityaffairs.gov.in/upload/uploadfiles/files/Guidelines%20relating%20to%20National%20Anthem.pdf
Castelino’s full post can be read at https://medium.com/@tecastelino/can-you-even-spell-respect-9f036da1d0a2#.vs713d50z