August 01, 2021

UP Population Bill Reinforces Ableist Mindset


STEPHEN Hawking would turn in his grave if he were to get to know the contents of the Draft Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill. Had he been a resident of Uttar Pradesh, in one stroke, he would have become persona non grata.

Nearer home, Noida CITU leader Ramsagar has three children. Both the oldest and youngest are deaf. Ramsagar was bemused when told that once legislated, parents like him would not be seen in contravention of the two-child norm that the bill seeks to impose.

That is precisely what Sec. 15 of the bill would do, if enacted. It would turn lakhs of disabled persons residing in the state of Uttar Pradesh persona non grata, whose very existence would not be taken into account. The bill, even while adopting a highly objectionable and coercive approach to population control, grants exemption to certain class of individuals from the two-child norm.

Amongst others, it lays down that, “….. an action of an individual shall not be deemed to be in contravention of the two child norm under this Act, if the either, or both, of his children born out of the earlier pregnancy suffer from disability and the couple conceives a third child subsequently” (language as in the draft).

Before going into the issue proper, a clarification would be in order. The draft presumes that people “suffer” from a disability. It needs reiteration that people do not “suffer” from a disability, but suffer because of it due to the various notions and barriers existing – societal and structural – that prevents their participation in society on an equal basis with others. Since this is not germane to the issue under discussion, we can leave it at that. But it needs to be underlined that this does reflect poorly on the Uttar Pradesh Law Commission, which drafted the bill. More on that later.

Sec. 15 of the UP Bill seeks to codify and institutionalise an ableist mindset. Ableism is understood as discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities. Ableism characterises disabled as inferior to the non-disabled.

The UP Bill, apart from stigmatising and devaluing the disabled as lesser beings, adopts a terribly pejorative, almost eugenic rationale. It tends to view the disabled as non-existent and equivalent to being dead. It reinforces the belief of disability being a curse. The bill underpins the preconceived but widely prevalent notion of incapability or incapacity of all persons with disabilities, while underlining that having a disabled child is as good as not having one at all. It views the disabled as a burden. This despite various disabled making a mark overcoming various hurdles and obstacles.

Unfortunate instances of parents killing their disabled children do make news once in a while. There have also been cases where parents have petitioned authorities seeking permission to kill their disabled child. Such unfortunate incidents, however distressing, happen because of the distress that face such parents. The State’s virtual abandonment of its duty towards its citizens, especially the most vulnerable and marginalised and its abject failure to provide adequate social security and other protective measures, give rise to such incidents.

Such letdowns by the State also compel individual parents and society at large to think in terms of opting for another child, which they presume will be able-bodied and provide support to the family.

The bill draws from the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 to define disability. There are 21 conditions listed in the act. These include impairments like visual, hearing & speech, locomotor, intellectual disabilities as also blood disorders, Parkinson’s and learning disabilities like dyslexia to name a few. 

The way disability is dealt with in the bill shows a complete lack of understanding of what constitutes disability as also its heterogeneous status. It sadly reflects on how the State views persons with disabilities. There is a total disregard of the thrust of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which India ratified as also the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. Both of these lay importance on harnessing the capabilities and capacities of disabled individuals and their participation in society on an equal basis with others.

In fact, the UP Draft Bill is in complete contravention of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The UNCRPD in its preamble emphasises on mainstreaming disability  and for “respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity“. The bill negates this understanding and turns it on its head.

Among the few other states that have legislated a two-child norm, it is only Rajasthan that adopts an approach similar to the UP draft. Besides, the 2017 Assam Policy also advocates a similar position.

But then we already have the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.  Through an amendment made in March 2021, the act while increasing the gestation limit, amongst others, also permits termination of pregnancy, in cases where “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from any serious physical or mental abnormality”.

What the UP Bill does is to promote a form of eugenics which was adopted by the Nazis as a doctrine to justify its treatment of disabled, the minorities and the Jews. Lest we forget Aktion T4. It were the disabled who were sent to the gas chambers first. Eugenics, provided the rationale for stigmatising, devaluing and killing the disabled.

Apart from its regressive, anti-poor and anti-women nature, the bill should also be opposed for reinforcing an ableist mindset. And it is no coincidence that this particular section is titled “Of Death or Disability of Child”. Disability=Death!