The government of India seems to have washed its hands off the problems of the disabled following the notification of the Persons with Disability Act in 1996. Given its disinterest in implementing the law — presumably because the disabled are not much of a vote bank — whatever hopes the disabled had of leading an honourable and meaningful life is slowly ebbing. In some states, people have sought directives from the court to force the government to act. For example, a public interest litigation, filed in New Delhi, urges the courts to direct the administration to provide barrier-free access in public buildings and historical monuments.
Unfortunately, the public and even government authorities are not aware of the 1996 act. An Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy report states that only 38 per cent of the general population and 65 per cent of government officers in West Bengal know of the act.
Section 32 of this act provides for a 3 per cent reservation for the visually-impaired, the hearing-impaired and the locomotor-disabled in government jobs. (There must also be a reservation quota for the mentally-challenged.) But for long, the University Grants Commission refused to reserve teaching posts for the disabled. Only recently has it agreed to follow the provisions of the disability act, following an appeal to the Supreme Court by the All India Confederation for the Blind. As a result, the disabled will also be allowed a 5 per cent relaxation in marks at the post graduation level just as scheduled caste and scheduled tribe students.
Section 26 of the act provides for free education to every disabled child upto 18 years. But the ministry of social justice and empowerment, declared in June 2000, that grants would be phased out by 20 per cent a year for non-governmental organizations which have been receiving aid for 5 years or more, and by 10 per cent for NGOs which have been receiving aid for less than 5 years. This is unfortunate since there are very few NGO-run institutions for the disabled in comparison to the total strength of the disabled. Now these must sustain their activities through corporate donations and foreign grants, or down shutters. No wonder, the NGOs, the disabled and their guardians are upset.
The government depends entirely on NGOs for the development of the disabled and hence it must help these organizations with funds. Already, the government has stopped the second instalment and many NGOs which had stopped taking fees from guardians in keeping with the provisions of the disability act, have now hiked their fees.
This will surely lead many parents to withdraw their wards from school. Thus depriving the children of a school environment and with it the association of friends that they seldom enjoy at home and the opportunity to learn. This also causes irreparable damage to the children and reverse much of the progress in their welfare and rehabilitation.
Governments have never seriously tried to eradicate the social, physical and mental barriers that prevent the disabled from integrating into the mainstream. While the education of the disabled is termed “special education” and is under the ministry of social justice and empowerment, that of all the other children of our country comes under the ministry of human resource development. Why the double-standards'
All disabled persons have something to contribute to society if given a chance and the right environment. Sadly, many think otherwise. In a recent television debate on euthanasia, one eminent participant argued that persons with an intelligent quotient lower than 40 and rendered immobile by disability should be allowed to end their life, which had become meaningless. Such attitudes must not be allowed to go unprotested.
Governments change, but there is no change in attitude and in the condition of the disabled in our country.