Vol. XLIII No. 12 March 24, 2019
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NPRD Observes International Day for Disabled Persons

LENIN Sarani in Kolkata has been a witness to many hues of gatherings, but on December 3, the occasion of international day for disabled persons, it had witnessed a procession which had not been seen in the city for a long time. As the wave of yellow surged towards its destination, the bustling metropolis came to a standstill to take note of the faces of the participants.

The spirit of the procession was succinctly embodied by the action of an anonymous participant. While marching forward, his crutch gave way and he fell down on the dusty thoroughfare. As the city traffic held its breath and the yellow surge paused for a flitting second, he picked himself up from the dust and disregarding requests to be carried in a car, began marching once again. This, he said, was part of his daily life, he might fall down, might stumble but he had the necessary zeal to rise up and march again.

The entire procession was replete with many such stories of individual valour, of overcoming grave personal tribulations. All such small personal anxieties and deprivations had come together and instead of wallowing in a sense of despair, they transformed themselves to a harmonious force, a chorus of resistance; resistance against the apathy of the government in implementing the Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2016.

It must be noted here that the Act was not an act of benevolence from the part of the central government but a result of the constant and consistent struggles unleashed by the disabled people of our country. In this struggle also, National Platform for Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) and its affiliates played a stellar role. Right from the day the Act was passed in parliament, it was clear to the disabled community that getting the law passed was not the ‘be all and end all’ of the struggle, rather, it was just a beginning. What lay ahead was a long and arduous struggle – struggle to implement all the enabling provisions of the act.

Most of the state governments have shown no urgency to implement the provisions of this legislation. One of the states lagging most in this aspect is West Bengal. Even after the passage of two years, rules under the Act are yet to be framed. Even though the act has increased reservation in the higher education institutes from 3 per cent in the previous Act to 5 per cent, the students of Bengal are yet to be benefited from it. Even the increase in job quota is yet to be implemented.

So, on the day when various government departments, both at the centre and at the state level, were busy celebrating the day and paying lip service to the hidden potentials of the disabled persons and made tall claims of making attempts to facilitate their inclusion in the so-called mainstream, Paschimbanga Rajya Pratibandhi Sammilani (PRPS), the West Bengal affiliate of NPRD, mobilised a huge section of disabled people in order to raise demands pertaining to their lives. Rani Rasmoni Avenue, considered to be the nerve-centre of protests in Kolkata, was awash with yellow flags and demands of the disabled people.

This aspect of the observance of the international day for disabled persons was stressed upon by V Muralidharan, general secretary of NPRD, who, in his speech, lambasted the central government for its complete apathy to implement the provisions of the RPD Act. He said, the government at Delhi is citing lack of funds as an excuse to deny the disabled people what is rightfully theirs, but shows no compunction in letting the Mallyas and Modis to go scot-free after swindling huge chunks of money from the banks. The government has offered us nothing but a name and a lot of tall claims. Coming down heavily on the West Bengal government, he said, when disabled women and children are subjected to sexual harassment almost on a daily basis, the administration from Nabanna choose to look the other way. He concluded by exhorting the disabled people to rise up for their rights and prepare to wage more resolute struggles to ensure that their rights are granted.

Kanti Ganguly, general secretary of PRPS and the president of NPRD, urged the disabled people to come out of any illusion of securing benefits from this government. “This government has done nothing for us,” he said to the people, “except initiating a scheme called Manobik which too is basically exclusionary in nature.” He reminded the people that NPRD was the first organisation in India which raised the demand of a Uniform Disability Identity (UDID) when no one else was talking about it. However, he rued the fact that West Bengal continues to be one of the worst performing states in so far as enrolling people in the UDID. Ganguly declared that if steps are not taken to implement the provisions of the Act within three months, PRPS will go on a state-wide struggle.

Addressing the programme, Sujan Chakraborty, leader of CPI(M) in the state assembly, decried the government for its complete lack of attention on this section of the society. He said, “that tens and thousands of disabled citizens had to descend to the city braving all obstacles to demand what the parliament had accorded, is a monumental shame on the government, which claims initiating people-friendly steps.” He assured the gathering that the Left parties and all other opposition forces in the state legislature would raise the demands of the disabled people in unison. He also exhorted the people of the state to rally around the disabled people because it is not the struggle of the disabled people alone but a struggle of all the marginalised sections of the people.

Abdul Mannan, leader of opposition in the state legislature, addressed the gathering and ensured full cooperation both inside the assembly and outside of it on the issues concerning the disabled people of the state. The rally was addressed by Wasim Kapur, the renowned painter, Mandakranta Sen, one of the leading poets of contemporary Bengal, Ishita Mukherjee, one of the leading academicians of the state, among others.

A delegation under the leadership of Sailen Choudhury, the president of PRPS, met the state disability commissioner and submitted a memorandum containing the demands. The commissioner assured the delegation of taking all possible steps to address their concerns.

HARYANA

ON the call of the Viklang Adhikar Manch (VAM) Haryana, an affiliate of NPRD, the disabled in the state observed a one day hunger strike on December 3 – International Day of Disabled Persons. This was organised to expose the apathy of the state government towards the disabled. “An appeal of the disabled to the people” titled leaflets were distributed to expose the hollow promises of the Haryana state government towards the disabled.

The hunger strikes were observed in Hisar, Karnal, Kaithal, Jind, Fatehabad and Sonipat districts. Memorandum addressed to the prime minister was submitted to respective district collectors and other subordinate officers.

Under the banner of ‘Netraheen Kalyan Manch’ (welfare forum for the blind) a demonstration was held on December 3, in front of the office of social justice and disability welfare department at Panchkula.

The Haryana state government sponsored programme was held in Kurukshetra. This was supposed to be attended by the chief minister. However, he did not attend and instead, Krishan Bedi minister for social justice and empowerment attended the state level function. On hearing the speech of the minister that was rhetorical about the false claims of delivery, the disabled started shouting slogans against the minister. This led to the arrest of Ravindra Nalvi, one of the disabled activists. It was only at late night after protest actions by the disabled, that he was released. The VAM strongly condemned the high-handedness of the police and wrote a complaint to the prime minister seeking action against the minister at whose behest Ravindra Nalvi was arrested. The protest of the disabled was also supported by the CPI(M).

MAIN DEMANDS OF THE STRIKE

(a) Disability law 2016 should be implemented in Haryana

(b) Vacant posts of the disabled should be filled up and temporary employees be regularised

(c) Free pass facility should be provided to those who have 40 per cent disability

(d) BPL cards should be made for the deserving disabled according to the SC guidelines  

(e) A monthly pension of Rs 5000 should be disbursed to the disabled

(f) Artificial limbs should be provided to the disabled and the GST on them should be waived off

(g) Disability certificate should be given at the PHC level and the process should be simplified

(h) Loans for self-employment should be given to the disabled without any interest

(i) Special schools and colleges for the deaf, dumb and blind should be opened at the district level.