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Widening the field

India’s Divyangjan community must be given adequate reservation in the political sphere

Widening the field
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Reservation in India has its origins from Poona pact between BR Ambedkar on behalf of "depressed classes" and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya on behalf of Caste Hindus for their adequate representation. On December 12, 2019, Indian Parliament passed the 126th Constitution Amendment Bill to extend quota to SCs and STs in Lok Sabha and State Assemblies by another 10 years which is in vogue for the last 70 years – since independence. The reservation for Anglo-Indians in the form of "nomination" is set to expire on January 25, 2020, as the new bill does not extend this facility to the community.

While participating in the debate on the subject during the course of proceedings in the Parliament, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad mentioned, "It is time for us to think about new categories of people". It struck my mind that one category which transcends all boundaries of class, colour and creed has been left out and that is Divyangjan which got prominence when Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, Accessible India Campaign and setting up of Department of Empowerment of Persons with disability in the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi were launched.

At present, there is a provision of 3 per cent reservation for Divyangjan in higher education and government jobs. The voices of the Divyangjan should find their place in Indian legislature especially the Parliament, State Legislatures, Municipalities and Panchayati Raj Institutions so that their problems are addressed by the highest policymaking authority of the country and they can play a constructive role in making Divyangjan friendly policies who only they can suggest.

As per the Right of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act, 2016 'person with disability' means a person with long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment which, in interaction with barriers, hinders their full and effective participation in society, equal with others. According to the 2001 census, the number of persons with various kind of disabilities was 2.1 crore which in 2011 census rose by 22.4 per cent to 2.68 crore. Out of this number of 2.68 crore, 1.22 crore are illiterate and 0.64 crore are educated till or below the eighth standard.

Our epics show us that persons with disabilities have been discriminated against by portraying them negatively and telling us their condition is because of sins committed in past lives. Mahabharata, which contains elements of philosophy, life, war, intellect, passion, jealousy and treachery, one element that is also discussed but not given appropriate importance is the topic of disabilities. The character associated with it is Dhritarashtra, who is negatively portrayed throughout the text.

India is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as well The Constitution of India states in article 15(4): "Nothing in [Article 15] or in clause (2) of Article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially, and educationally backward classes of citizens of or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes."

International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3 is an international observance promoted by the United Nations since 1992. Last year's theme was "Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda". On the same lines, the vision of the government as given in the annual report of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment is "To build an inclusive society in which equal opportunities are provided for growth and development of persons with disabilities so that they can lead productive, safe and dignified lives" and the mission is "To empower persons with disabilities through its various acts/institutions/organisation and schemes for rehabilitation and to create an enabling environment that provides such persons with equal opportunities, protection of their rights and enables them to participate as independent and productive members of society."

The main challenges in today's scenario are, firstly, creating awareness in general public and among the Divyangjan themselves and secondly, to make state governments, municipalities and panchayat bodies to understand the mandate towards the inclusion and empowerment of Divyangjan and thirdly, inclusion and barrier-free environment that concerns issues related to them at various levels. The environment is the determinantal factor, defining the experience of disability. If the environment is made conducive, the disability can be neutralised.

Uganda, where 16 per cent of the population has some form of disability, is one country where elected political bodies at all levels must reserve a minimum number of seats for representatives of persons with disabilities. The Parliament of Uganda has five seats reserved for these people and according to United Nation's Uganda's Initial Status Report 2010, "each local government council has a directly elected chairperson, directly elected councillors representing demarcated electoral areas, two councillors (one male, one female) representing the youth, two councillors (one male, one female) representing persons with disabilities and women councillors forming one-third of the council".According to one estimate, Uganda's 47,000 representatives with disabilities, that is 0.5 per cent of the registered electorate, are the largest group of politicians with disabilities in the world. India which is the largest democracy in the world should take this as a cue.

All the same, encouraging examples prevail, even in the Indian context. Sadhan Gupta became the first blind parliamentarian in independent India in 1953. Then there was Yamuna Prasad Shastri, who while blind, was also a member of the Lok Sabha from Rewa, MP. Furthermore, the examples of Om Prakash Chautala, the former CM of Haryana, Jaipal Reddy, the former union minister of the cabinet and Minati Barik from Odisha have all also shown that barriers of disability can be broken for the upliftment of the society.

The writer is a researcher in JNU. Views expressed are strictly personal

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