Conversations in disabilities, diversities in conversations

This illustration is a combination of a photograph and a visual of an order issued by the University Branch of the Department of Higher Education, Government of West Bengal directing a reservation of at least 5 percent for persons with disabilities in university admissions across all categories. The photograph shows a rally taken out by the Jadavpur University’s Forum for Students with Disabilities in 2017, almost a year before the reservation order was issued. Around 15 people, all males, can be seen walking behind a large banner that says “March for Rights in Higher Education and Justice for Students with Disabilities – Forum for Students with Disabilities”. The text is written in big bold letters in red on a white background. To the top right corner of the photograph is a small inset that shows the government order on reservations (full text of the order can be read in the associated article). Photo credit: Shampa Sengupta

Clickhappy! Jan '19
Shampa Sengupta on a round-up of positive developments for disability rights in end 2018

Around two years ago when the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 became a reality, many people engaged in the campaign that made this happen had a sense of achievement. But there were also several doubts about how the Act would translate into actions on the ground.

Even as early as in March 2017, the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) wrote to the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Government of India urging significant changes to the Draft of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Rules as these were not in keeping with the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act itself.

However, not all was lost, with the impact of the new legislation making itself felt gradually. The end of 2018 in particular saw some developments – nationally and in West Bengal – that held up reason for optimism.

On December 7, 2018, the University Branch of the Department of Higher Education, Government of West Bengal directed a reservation of at least 5 percent for persons with disabilities in university admissions across all categories. The order was signed by the Special Secretary of the Department of Higher Education and addressed to the Vice-Chancellors of universities.

To quote from the order: “In partial modification to this Department’s earlier Notification bearing no. 07-Edn(U)/1U-89/13 dated 02.01.2014 regarding the West Bengal State Higher Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2013, I am directed to inform you that the percentage of reservation for the persons with disabilities shall be extended not less than 5% in each of the categories, that is, SC, ST, OBC-A, OBC-B and General Categories, subject to the condition that the reservation of seats shall not exceed 45% (SC-22%, ST-6%, OBC-A 10%, OBC-B 7%). I am further directed to inform you that such PwD candidates may be placed at the top of the list prepared for such category students.”

The main photo above (taken by the author), along with a copy of the order, shows a rally taken out by the Jadavpur University’s Forum for Students with Disabilities in 2017. It was heart-warming to see a students’ body taking up cudgels for disability rights. The timing of the reservation order, almost a year since this rally, seemed quite apt!

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Ahead of the reservations order success, on November 25, 2018, the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) organized the ‘National Convention against Sexual Violence on Girls / Women with Disabilities’ in Delhi. The event attracted a large turnout at Pt. Ravishankar Shukla Lane in the heart of the city (all photographs below courtesy NPRD).

This is a daytime photograph that shows the entrance to the venue of the ‘National Convention against Sexual Violence on Girls / Women with Disabilities’ organized by the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) at Pt. Ravishankar Shukla Lane in Delhi on November 25, 2018. To the left of the photograph is a huge banner mounted on a wall next to the entrance gate. The banner title says “Ab Nahin Aur” in large red and blue text in Hindi on a black background. The name of the convention organizers (NPRD) is mentioned above the banner title to the top right, and the name of the convention is printed below the banner title to the bottom right of the banner. The NPRD’s flag is fitted into the entrance gate, and a number of smaller posters with the same theme as the banner are mounted on the pillars of the entrance gate as well as on the gate panel itself. In the foreground can be seen a small plant on the pavement in front of the banner, and a concrete driveway leading into the open entrance gate. The background consists of a number of trees growing inside the venue space. Photo credit: NPRD
 
The convention adopted the following resolution:

“This national convention against sexual violence against women and girls with disabilities:

Notes with concern: The increasing number of cases of sexual assaults against girls and women with disabilities, especially those lodged in institutions.

This convention is appalled that despite provisions in laws that address concerns of disabled girls and women, such provisions are not being implemented properly.

This convention expresses regret over the lack of awareness and insensitivity of the law enforcement machinery and the judiciary with regard to issues concerning women with disabilities.

This is a daytime photograph that shows 60-70 participants, almost all adults and with a mix of genders, at the ‘National Convention against Sexual Violence on Girls / Women with Disabilities’ seated inside a ‘shamiyana’ set up on a lawn. The participants are listening to the proceedings of a panel discussion (panellists are behind the photographer and not in the picture). In the foreground is some open space followed by participants seated in several rows till the far end of the ‘shamiyana’. Two video cameras can be seen installed on tripods towards the front end of the seating space. On the left edge of the photograph a number of participants are seated in wheelchairs. The entrance to the ‘shamiyana’ is on the far end, through which trees in the background are visible. The convention was held in Delhi on November 25, 2018. Photo credit: NPRD

This convention calls for:

– Proper implementation of provisions contained in criminal laws, POCSO and RPD Act governing sexual assaults on women and girls with disabilities.

– Education and training of professionals at all levels regarding provisions of laws and issues concerning women with disabilities.

– Establishment of credible monitoring mechanisms, with visitation rights to oversee the functioning of institutions housing disabled women and children.

This photograph shows an interactive session under way at the ‘National Convention against Sexual Violence on Girls / Women with Disabilities’ held in Delhi on November 25, 2018. Anita Ghai, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Jesus and Mary College, Delhi and disability rights activist in the areas of education, health, gender and sexuality is in conversation with a small group of participants. She is seated in her wheelchair with a document in her lap and microphone in hand. The other participants are seated around her. The conversation seems to be an animated one, with many people smiling and listening to Professor Anita Ghai. The interaction is taking place inside a ‘shamiyana’ set up on a lawn at the convention venue at Pt. Ravishankar Shukla Lane. Photo credit: NPRD

Anita Ghai, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Jesus and Mary College, Delhi and disability rights activist in education, health, gender and sexuality in conversation with other participants

This is a close-up shot of two speakers in a panel discussion at the ‘National Convention against Sexual Violence on Girls / Women with Disabilities’ held in Delhi on November 25, 2018. On the left is Shilpi Bhattacharya, Associate Professor at the O. P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat and disability rights activist who advocates on issues of GNE myopathy. She has a microphone in her hand as to her left Anita Ghai, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Jesus and Mary College, Delhi and disability rights activist in the areas of education, health, gender and sexuality looks on sideways at the speaker. Both speakers are seated behind a table, with Anita Ghai seated on a wheelchair. The table has some papers, a bottle of water and a glass kept on it. Behind the speakers one can see a glimpse of the convention banner. Photo credit: NPRD

Shilpi Bhattacharya, Associate Professor at O. P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat and disability rights advocate on GNE myopathy, speaks as disability rights activist Anita Ghai looks on

This convention demands:

– That the National Crime Records Bureau maintain disaggregated data of violence against women with disabilities.

– Allocation of adequate budgetary support for training and sensitisation of the law enforcement agencies at all levels.

– Strengthening of rehabilitation measures for survivors and adequate allocation for schemes formulated for this purpose.

This convention resolves: To unitedly work with disability rights organisations and the women’s movement to take this agenda forward.”

In this daytime photograph, the author Shampa Sengupta is deep in a conversation with another participant (a young woman) using sign language at the ‘National Convention against Sexual Violence on Girls / Women with Disabilities’ held in Delhi on November 25, 2018. Both individuals are seated on chairs face-to-face in a lawn at the convention venue. While the camera captures the author’s face more or less frontally, only the right hand side profile of the other person can be seen in the photograph. The background captures the boundary wall at the convention venue at Pt. Ravishankar Shukla Lane and small plants along the wall. Photo credit: NPRD

Author Shampa Sengupta (right) in conversation with another participant at the convention

This photograph shows two men, probably in their 30s or 40s, in conversation at the ‘National Convention against Sexual Violence on Girls / Women with Disabilities’ held in Delhi on November 25, 2018. The man on the left hand side in the photograph seems to be deafblind, and the man on the right hand side is explaining things to him through the touch of hands. The camera captures the side profiles of the two men, who are both dressed in the t-shirts of NGO Sense International India – light grey with the organizational logo in orange printed on the front left side of the t-shirt. The men are inside a ‘shamiyana’ put up at the convention venue. Sense International India advocates for better services for deafblind children and adults across India. Photo credit: NPRD

Two participants associated with Sense International India in conversation at the convention

This photograph captures three participants, all women, at the ‘National Convention against Sexual Violence on Girls / Women with Disabilities’ held in Delhi on November 25, 2018. The participants are seated inside a ‘shamiyana’ put up in a lawn at the convention venue at Pt. Ravishankar Shukla Lane. All three are bespectacled and seem to be in a pensive mood. While two of the women, in their 30s or 40s, are seated in chairs next to each other and are looking at the camera, the third is much older, at least in her 60s, and is seated in a chair a little ahead of the other two. She is looking sideways and away from the camera. She has her head and chest covered with a portion of her saree, and has put on an eye shade cap that bears the name of the Paschimbanga Rajya Pratibandhi Sammilani. She is holding on to the top of a thin bamboo stick to balance herself – the stick rises beyond the woman’s head in a seated position and so her hand is also raised in order to hold on to the top of the stick. Photo credit: NPRD

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Parallel to the issues of access to higher education and protection from sexual violence, what about the right to recreation? On December 3, 2018, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata announced that it would take several measures by early 2019 to make the museum more accessible to persons with disabilities.

In particular, the museum would have Braille signage for 50 prime exhibits and put in place ramps, golf carts and an elevator to facilitate easier movement for persons with disabilities and senior citizens within the Victoria Memorial grounds and inside the museum.

This announcement was made as part of an event ‘Making Museums Accessible’, an illustrated lecture presented by Siddhant Shah, a Delhi-based expert on access and inclusion. Siddhant Shah is the founder of AccessForAll.co, which focuses on physical, intellectual and social access in museums and heritage sites.

The visual below shows extracts from a poster created for the lecture presented by Siddhant Shah at Victoria Memorial Hall. His lecture was centred on creating a roadmap to ensure that people with disabilities have greater access to cultural heritage spaces in India.

This illustration is a combination of several visuals extracted from a poster created for an event titled ‘Making Museums Accessible’ held at the Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata on December 3, 2018, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The event consisted of an illustrated lecture presented by Siddhant Shah, a Delhi-based expert on access and inclusion for persons with disabilities. The visuals show a number of museum exhibits like paintings and graphics mounted on the walls with Braille signage, and visitors reading the signage with their fingers (museum locations not known, barring one at Jantar Mantar, possibly in Delhi). One of the visuals is a newspaper clipping headlined ‘What the Eyes Can’t See, Fingers Feel’ – the clipping shows Siddhant Shah inside a gallery holding an illustration with Braille text in his hands and a visually impaired person reading the text with his fingers. Poster courtesy: Victoria Memorial Hall

Author Photo

Shampa Sengupta

Shampa Sengupta is a Kolkata-based activist working on gender and disability issues for more than 25 years. She is the founder of an advocacy group called Sruti Disability Rights Centre and is Joint Secretary, National Platform for Rights of the Disabled. She will be happy to answer your queries on disability and related issues. Write in your queries to vartablog@gmail.com, and they will be answered with due respect to confidentiality.

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