THE thousands that had turned out at the Deshabandhu maidan in Tamil Nadu’s Virudhunagar on September 17 braving an overcast sky and incessant showers, to mark the conclusion of the NPRD’s second conference, reflected the confidence that the disabled people of Tamil Nadu and the country reposed in the NPRD. In the NPRD and its affiliates they saw the embodiment of their hopes and aspirations. This was a conference of victory; of consolidating gains and setting goals of expansion; and of pledges to take forward the struggle with renewed vigour for a more egalitarian, equitable, inclusive and accessible India.
The two-day conference had begun on September 16 morning with flag hoisting by president Jansi Rani at the venue rechristened after a veteran of the disability rights movement, Sadhan Gupta. The proceedings were conducted at the Masudur Rehman Manch. While Sadhan Gupta was the first visually impaired member of the Lok Sabha, later on member of the West Bengal assembly and subsequently the solicitor general of the state, Masudur was a swimmer who despite being a double amputee crossed the English Channel and became the first disabled swimmer to cross the Strait of Gibraltar.
As if to underline these achievements and that the disabled can prove their mettle provided they are given the opportunities, Retd. Justice Gopala Gowda in his hour-long inaugural speech called upon the disabled not to display any sort of diffidence. He invoked Stephen Hawking, Hellen Keller and other such famous disabled personalities to underscore his point. Earlier, TKSPT Shanmugasundaram, chairman of the reception committee welcomed the delegates.
General Secretary Kanti Ganguly in his address recalled the seven-year long journey of the NPRD since its formation at a convention in Kolkata. Formed in February 2010, the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled is an affiliating body of state level membership based disability rights organisations, currently with affiliates in 14 states and a membership totalling around two lakh.
The draft report introduced by secretary Muralidharan analysed the conditions of the disabled citizens in the country, the impact of governmental policies and programmes and the miserable conditions in which the disabled population live.
The report notes that the economic conditions of the vast mass of the disabled have only worsened during the intervening period since the first conference held at Ernakulam in December 2013. The report noted with concern that the low coverage of the PDS has adverse implications for the disabled. According to the UN “4 out of 10 children in India are not meeting their full human potential because of chronic undernutrition or stunting”. Stunting has consequences such as diminished learning capacity, poor school performance, reduced earnings and increased risks of chronic diseases. The impacts are multi-generational as malnourished women often give birth to infants with low birth weight and disabilities.
The report makes a detailed analysis of various developmental indicators as far as the disabled are concerned. They paint a very dismal picture. Education is, for the disabled, who battle stigma and discrimination throughout their lives, a great enabler and means of empowerment. Unfortunately, the report notes, only 54.52 per cent of the disabled population, as per the 2011 Census are literate; just around 13 per cent have managed to reach the matriculation/secondary stage and a mere 8.53 are graduates and above.
As for employment, which in a sense provides dignity, the scenario is depressing. According to the 2011 Census figures only 36.34 per cent of disabled population in the employable age i.e., between 15 to 59 have some sort of employment. The major avenue for employment for the disabled is the government sector. With neo-liberal policies being pursued with renewed vigour and the regime of outsourcing and contracts, even the meagre opportunities for the disabled in this sector, are dwindling by the day. Largescale privatisation of various services and public sector units is only further worsening the situation.
In such a scenario, the unemployed disabled have more and more to rely on allowances called “pension” being disbursed by the State. In this too there has been a cut in the number of beneficiaries, owing to the low level of allocations. Currently, under the Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme (IGNDPS) Rs 300 is being given as pension by the central government. Whereas some states make their own contribution to this amount, many states do not do it. Even this meagre dole is being given to a mere 4 per cent of the total disabled population identified by the 2011 Census.
The conference in a separate resolution demanded that there be a uniform pension throughout the country and the amount be enhanced to Rs 3000 for persons with 40 per cent or more disability and for those above 75 per cent it be enhanced to Rs 5000.
The most important development, during this period, the report noted, was the passage of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. Despite some inadequacies, the Bill, is an advance upon the 1995 Persons with Disabilities Act. The Act also has penal provisions for non-compliance, which was one of the major drawbacks of the 1995 Act and one of our major demands. The report sets the goal of educating the entire membership of the NPRD at all levels about the provisions of the RPD Act as also the rules framed under it so that it can be taken up for implementation.
The conference deplored the deliberate attempt being made to circumvent the implementation of the Act in its entirety. Framing of central rules, indispensable for the proper and holistic implementation of the RPD Act, was done in a shoddy manner. Rules have not been framed for many crucial chapters of the Act. In a separate resolution, the conference gave a call for big demonstrations at state and district headquarters in all states on December 4, 2017 to demand the proper implementation of the positive provisions of the RPD Act.
One major area of focus for the NPRD and its affiliates has been the poor certification. A disability certificate is a basic document, without which you are deprived of all entitlements, coverage under schemes etc. On this score, the facts are shocking. Only 49.50 per cent of the disabled population have been issued certificates as on August 31, 2015, according to the Annual Report 2015-16 of the department of persons with disabilities, ministry of social justice and empowerment.
Access continues to be one of the major burning issues for the disabled. Inaccessible roads, public transport, educational institutions, employment avenues and various services including banking all are hindrances in the progress of the disabled. The situation in the rural areas is much worse.
The conference also passed separate resolutions on issues concerning women with disabilities, non-payment of wages to disabled workers under the MNREGA, step-motherly treatment given to para-sports, non-implementation of the Tamil Nadu government GO with regard to pensions etc.
The conference also resolved to conduct a widespread campaign on the issue of education and jobs for all disabled. Problems with certification, accessibility, issues related to health, caregivers allowance etc will be the other issues which the NPRD and its affiliates will take up urgently for campaign and struggle during the coming period.
The conference saw the participation of 267 delegates from 14 states.
It elected a 41-member executive committee with Kanti Ganguly as president, Muralidharan as general secretary and Namburajan as treasurer. It also elected four vice presidents and five secretaries.
Preparations had been going on in Virudhunagar for the past more than five months to host the conference. Despite the lack of adequate infrastructure to host a conference of this type, dozens of volunteers attached to the reception committee toiled day and night for the success of the conference. A massive fund collection drive and publicity campaign was conducted during this period. Blood donation camps and cultural events were held in the build up to the conference.
Marking the conclusion of the conference a big procession was taken out from MGR statue to Deshabandhu Maidan. Thousands of disabled persons from the districts neighbouring Virudhunagar participated in the procession and public meeting despite rain playing spoilsport.
Brinda Karat, the main speaker at the rally riled against the policies of both the central and state governments as far as disability issues are concerned. She lambasted the government for its skewed and misplaced priorities. She congratulated the NPRD and other disability rights organisations for waging a consistent struggle to get the RPD Act passed. While the government is going to spend one lakh 70 thousand crore on the bullet train, it is refusing to increase the pensions given to disabled persons. Brinda also castigated the government for imposing Aadhar and said many people are deprived of pensions and other social security schemes because of the failure of biometric verification. Others who spoke at the public meeting included the newly elected president Kanti Ganguly, general secretary Muralidharan, treasurer Namburajan and vice president Jansi Rani.