PWDs: Need for a better deal
People with disabilities, who number 70 million, are demanding political space.
Sixty years on, after the forefathers of this country attempted to seamlessly bind the socio-economic and political faultiness through various provisions, inequality continues to be the persistent hallmark of India. In this scenario, the highly debatable system of reservations has become a tool that has positively impacted the lives of millions especially women and Dalit. Today a new section of people are demanding the benefits of this system and they happened to be, People with Disabilities (PWDs).
Marginalised, socially, economically and politically, the 70 million PWDs who live largely on the silent fringes of our society are seeing the need for greater political participation as the surest means towards the larger emancipation of their lot. “When even smaller populations like Christians who are 2 per cent of the population in the country have two co-opted members in Parliament, why not we who are a sizable 7 per cent”, they demand in unison.
Thankfully, the Government of India recognised early that the greater political participation of PWDs was the only way out of the present situation of social and cultural ostracism, economic poverty, ignorance brought on by lack of education and political marginalisation and thus included disability in the 73rd Constitutional Amendment. It was hoped that now at the grassroot, community level, panchayats, the first political face of the system would be made sensitive to disability.
No change in situation
By giving powers to panchayats on disability it was hoped that the 75 per cent of PWDs, who live in rural India, who presently have no access to rehabilitation would now get individualised assistances. Sadly, however, little has changed at the ground level since 1992.
Recently, studying panchayats in Kolar district revealed that gram panchayats had no accurate figures about the number of PWDs in the village, the panchayat officials were completely ignorant about the various types of disabilities and their needs and none of them had even heard of The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995. The panchayat offices were found to be inaccessible, over crowded with furniture, having long flights of steps and no ramps and having narrow doors. Worse, the panchayats had no budgetary allocation towards disability and were able to financial assist only a few people depending on how much they could scrape together from leftover funds.
PWDs also complained that when they visit the panchayat office for assistance they are treated shabbily and 95 per cent of PWDs had never attended a village grama sabha because of this insensitive attitude; forget about placing their issues before the grama sabha for public debate. Our observation of the 10 panchayats in Kolar district, which are located a little over 75 km from the capital of the state, gives us little hope of expecting anything different in the rest of the 5,400 gram panchayats in Karnataka.
The 15 lakh PWDs in Karnataka are determined to positively control their futures through a greater visibility and political presence, where they can manoeuvre the levers of development especially in areas that influence their lives. They are demanding that PWDs be given at least 5 per cent political reservation at the panchayat and zilla panchayat level, that panchayats be instructed to maintain a data base of PWDs in their area and that a special Disability Adalat be held at least once a year to address their grievances.
There is also an urgent need for panchayat officials being made aware of the Disability Act 1995 and for them to make a 5 per cent budgetary allocation for PWDs in the village. PWDs are also demanding that the grama sabha be held in an accessible place so that they can attend it without hindrance. At the state level, PWDs are demanding that there be at least five co-opted representatives of PWDs in the state legislature and that all political parties in the state have a clear stand towards the disability sector.
The above article appeared in the Bangalore edition of the Deccan Herald on 7th May 2007