Convention of Disabled Held in Srinagar
Shaq pe hai yakeen tho, yakeen par hai shaq mujhe
Kiska jhooth jhooth hai, kiska sach sach nahin
Jaan loon ki jaan doon, main rahoon ki main nahin
COMING from the protagonist of the 2014 film Haider, an adaption of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it captures not just his, but the dilemma of the entire Kashmir. One can’t but recall it while leaving Kashmir after a two-day visit.
One less discussed aspect of the film is the portrayal of two disabled people. One by the late Irfan Khan, whose mesmerising ten minute screen presence won him accolades. The second is of a person who refuses to enter a housing complex despite repeated coaxing by his mother, until he receives a pat down (to which he has been conditioned) by Irfan, who seems the only one to understand his condition. The prolonged disturbances, curfews and physical screenings (often at multiple entry points) have created a huge mental health issue in the valley, which unfortunately fails to draw the attention it deserves.
While birth related impairments are a major cause of disability, political violence has been one of the factors that has contributed in no small measure to increasing incidence of disability in the valley. The context in which disability is viewed and experienced acquires a new dimension in Kashmir. Organising them too would require a different approach.
It was natural in this context that the adverse impact of the political situation on the lives and conditions of the disabled gets discussed at a meeting convened by the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRPD) in Srinagar. Among the participants were also people who acquired disability consequent to bomb blasts or injuries while caught in the crossfire between militants and the security forces or the ones who became blind due to the indiscriminate use of pellet guns by the security forces, as a means of mob control.
All the propaganda hype about the “improved” situation in Kashmir post August 5, 2019 gets exposed as one ventures out of the Sheikh ul-Alam Airport. Your pre-paid mobile connection is as good as dead. You are greeted by armoured CRPF vehicles as you exit the airport as also their gun-toting jawans on the entire route to Srinagar city.
More telling is the fact that roads are closed for at least 15 minutes in advance on the Lt. Governor’s route, something not done even for the current prime minister.
While claims are made of a substantial increase in the number of tourists visiting the valley, the scene at the picturesque Dal Lake tells a different story. Rows of colourfully decked empty shikaaras wait for tourists to board them. This “increase” in numbers of “tourists” is thanks to the fudging of figures. Pilgrims, visiting the Amarnath caves and Vaishno Devi shrine, until now not counted as tourists, now are.
While instances of violence may have ebbed a bit, the silence in the valley is stifling and discomforting. The unease is all pervasive. Despite all tall talk, it is evident that not “All is Well”.
The discontent was reflected in the convention as well. The young and not so young, men and women, students and others, over 50 of them from eight of the ten districts of Kashmir, who had assembled on October 16, expressed their anguish at the total apathy, negligence and insensitive manner in which disability issues were being handled. Many of them were either leaders of various disability rights organisations or activists.
During the discussion, participants pointed out that with school infrastructure, study material and curriculum being mostly inaccessible, non-availability of special educators and resource persons, students with various disabilities have to either abandon schooling mid-way or have to move out to other states. There is a huge backlog of vacancies against reserved posts and those recruited on contract/temporary basis are not being absorbed. Unemployment being rampant, a large chunk of the disabled population is dependent on “pensions”. However, even the miserly amount of Rs 1,000 has not been paid in some cases for over six months. Despite mandates of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, roads, transport, health facilities, public buildings and other utilities and amenities continue to be inaccessible for the disabled.
In the light of this, the convention called for a sustained struggle amongst others demanding enhancement in pension as also clearing of all arrears immediately; conducting special recruitment drives to clear backlog of vacancies, making all public places and transport accessible and the implementation of the provisions of the RPD Act.
A coordination committee of two members from each of the participating districts was formed to take this agenda forward.
The convention was also greeted by Muralidharan, general secretary of the NPRD, former MLA Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami and Mohammed Afzal Parry DDC chairperson, Kulgam.
MEETING IN PUNJAB
On October 1, 2023 a meeting of disabled persons was held in Malerkotla town of Punjab. Located on the Sangrur-Ludhiana highway, about 50 kms from Ludhiana and around 35 kms from Sangrur, Malerkotla is a Muslim majority area.
Malerkotla remained relatively unaffected from the communal riots that engulfed Punjab during partition in 1947. Even in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, no trouble was reported from here. There are various stories and versions that abound here about the reasons behind it. Even now, people in general here hold the late Nawabs, the rulers of the erstwhile princely state in high esteem. It has always been a Muslim candidate that has been elected to the assembly, with some going on to become ministers also.
While the town continues to maintain its distinct culture and communal harmony it has not witnessed much growth in its civic infrastructure. Nor has it seen major investments in industry. Agriculture, especially vegetables continue to be its mainstay. Girls are married off early and their education and careers take a beating.
It is in this town that a meeting of persons with disabilities from the district and adjoining areas was held on October 1, 2023. Around 60 disabled people with a large number of them being women were present to deliberate on pressing issues before the disabled community in Punjab and to decide on measures to tackle them.
The connect between poverty and disability and how people experience disability based on their economic and social status as also the intersectionality of gender, caste and religious status also came up for discussion.
Participants highlighted how despite reservations in government jobs recruitments were not happening and with no other avenue for livelihood, they are facing a bleak future. They are totally dependent on the meagre pension of Rs 600 that is being given by the state government. Hardships in procuring UDID cards and its non-acceptance universally, access to educational institutions, issues arising out of the implementation of the New Education Policy etc were also discussed.
A coordination committee with Parveen as the convenor was formed. It will formulate a charter of demands to take up with the state government and takes steps towards building an organisation of disabled persons in the state.
NPRD general secretary Muralidharan and joint secretary Rishikesh Rajli among others participated and guided the deliberations.
CONFERENCE OF HARYANA
VIKLANG ADHIKAR MANCH
The fourth conference of the Haryana Viklang Adhikar Manch was held at Ratia, Fatehabad district on October 14-15, 2023.
90 delegates from seven districts of the state participated in the conference. The conference was being held three and half years since the last conference.
The report placed by general secretary Rishikesh Rajli reviewed the conditions under which the disabled population is living in the state. Whereas the BJP state government has been tardy in implementing the various provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act and has been consistently displaying a lack of empathy to the conditions of the disabled, the HVAM has been conducting a sustained struggle on various issues, with some amount of success. Lack of employment opportunities and backlogs are haunting the disabled in the state. The need for more broad based and sustained struggles for enhancing budgetary provisions and for providing a dignified life for the disabled was underlined.
Participating in the discussion, delegates drew attention to the both non-availability of assistive devices and equipment as also the poor quality of those supplied by government agencies; the difficulties in procuring UDID cards; the apathy and insensitive attitude of the government and the administration etc. They also pointed out to the lack of special educators in schools as also inaccessibility of public services and utilities. A separate discussion on the issues confronting women with disabilities was also held.
Though there was a setback organisationally during the Covid pandemic, things have picked up since then, the report noted.
Among the various resolutions adopted by the conference were one on a uniform pension of at least Rs 5000 per month, linked to the consumer price index, provision of accessible study material in schools, against communalism etc.
The conference pledged to strengthen the organisation, consolidate the gains and endeavour to build a united movement of the disabled in the state.
A 19-member state committee was elected with Surinder Sethi as the president, Rishikesh Rajli as general secretary and Yogesh Shandeily as treasurer.
NPRD general secretary, Muralidharan inaugurated the conference, while chairman of the reception committee CN Bharati, general secretary of the School Teachers Federation of India delivered the welcome address. Leaders of various fraternal organisations also greeted the conference.
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