June 23, 2024

NPRD Highlights Discrimination Faced by Disabled UPSC Aspirants

THE National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) addressed a letter to the secretary, department of empowerment of persons with disabled, on June 19, bringing to his notice the reported discrimination faced by disabled UPSC aspirants at an examination centre in Madurai. The letter referred to a clipping from the June 17, 2024 Madurai edition of The Hindu. The clip pertains to a shocking news reported from the Balamandiram Higher Secondary School, Old Natham Road, Narimedu, Madurai, which was the examination centre for the UPSC prelim held on June 16, 2023.

As reported in the newspaper several disabled candidates appearing for the UPSC Prelims at the above centre were disallowed the use of aids like wheelchairs, calipers and crutches so essential for their mobility. Adding to their misery was the rule that prohibit the entry of anyone other than the candidate, leaving the candidates with no other option but to crawl from the entry gate to the examination hall. One candidate even alleged that despite possessing a letter permitting him to use a pillow to sit, as he has a spinal injury, he was denied permission to carry it inside. Another candidate with post-polio syndrome was asked to remove calipers before being permitted inside the centre. These are just a few cases that have come to the attention of the journalist and reported by the daily. Candidates also claimed that repeated announcements were being made over the public address system informing candidates to leave behind their mobility aids before entering the centre.

The NPRD also has information that the examination centre was inaccessible to enter which one had to negotiate several steps, despite the guidelines issued by the DEPwD vide  F. No. 29-6/2019-DD-III dated August 10, 2022, which expressly mandate that “the examination centres should be accessible for persons with disabilities”. Besides the immense difficulty in negotiating their way to the examination centre, they have been deprived the use of facilities like the toilet which also they could not have reached without their mobility aids.

While mobile phones, blue tooth devices, smart watches and such items are banned, and rightly so, there is no such ban on the use of mobility aids, which are essentially body parts. In fact, the DEPwD guidelines referred to above are unambiguous: “(g) The candidate should be allowed to use aids and assistive devices such as prosthetics & orthotics, hearing aid …..”

The cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that these candidates were subjected to amounts to both physical and mental torture, protection against which Section 6(1) of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 mandates. This also amounts to discrimination in relation to disability, as defined in Sec. 2(h) of the RPD Act. The Act defines discrimination to means “any distinction, exclusion, restriction on the basis of disability which is the purpose or effect of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field and includes all forms of discrimination and denial of reasonable accommodation”.

This episode underlines the physical and attitudinal barriers that the disabled have to encounter in their daily lives.  It also underscores that before choosing this particular examination centre, a proper audit for its accessibility for persons with disabilities was not conducted, in addition to exposing the lack of sensitivity of officials at various levels.

By bringing this to the attention of the DEPwD, the nodal department, the NPRD urgeD that the August 2022 guidelines regarding the conduct of examinations be revisited, to explicitly state that use of mobility and other aids essential for persons with disabilities be permitted in examination centres (apart from listing them out), in addition to the other amendments that may be required. It is also essential that the department takes to task both the UPSC for failing in its duty to provide a level playing field to PwDs as also the concerned authorities at the examination centre for the violation of the basic human rights of these candidates and the indignity and discrimination that they were subjected to.

To quote Sec. 92 of the RPD Act:

“92. Whoever,— (a) intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a person with disability in any place within public view; (b) assaults or uses force to any person with disability with intent to dishonour him or outrage the modesty of a woman with disability; (c) having the actual charge or control over a person with disability voluntarily or knowingly denies food or fluids to him or her; (d) being in a position to dominate the will of a child or woman with disability and uses that position to exploit her sexually; (e) voluntarily injures, damages or interferes with the use of any limb or sense or any supporting device of a person with disability; (f) performs, conducts or directs any medical procedure to be performed on a woman with disability which leads to or is likely to lead to termination of pregnancy without her express consent except in cases where medical procedure for termination of pregnancy is done in severe cases of disability and with the opinion of a registered medical practitioner and also with the consent of the guardian of the woman with disability, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to five years and with fine”