CPI(M)’s disability outreach through print, sound and sign language sets a precedent

This photograph shows a scene from the disability rights interaction organized by the CPI(M) at Maha Bodhi Society Hall in Central Kolkata on May 5, 2019. The objective was to convey what the CPI(M) manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls had to say about the concerns of persons with disabilities. To the right of the photograph is a podium where a number of speakers are either standing or seated behind a table. These include Professor Ishita Mukhopadhyay (standing and furthest away), faculty at the University of Calcutta; Anirban Mukherjee, Executive Committee member of the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled and CPI(M) member; Kaninika Bose Ghosh, Kolkata Uttar Lok Sabha election candidate; and Professor Nandini Mukherjee, Kolkata Dakshin Lok Sabha election candidate (closest to the camera). To the left, next to a few steps leading up to the podium, is Sumanta Ghosh, a member of a disability rights network in Kolkata. He is making a point during the interaction using sign language, as a few members in the audience seated behind him look on. A sign language interpreter can be seen in the forefront with her back to the camera. In the background, tall pillars of the high-ceilinged Maha Bodhi Society Hall seem to make a mark against creamy white walls. Photo credit: Rith Das

VCR Diary, Happenings, May '19
Rith Das reports (with inputs from Pawan Dhall) on CPI(M)’s recent disability rights meeting

Kolkata, May 5, 2019: The Communist Party of India (Marxist) today organized a unique interface with the disability rights community in Kolkata to convey what their manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls had to say about the concerns of persons with disabilities. In what is likely a first of its kind in India, the manifesto, apart from a print version, was also presented in audio format and through sign language (see video on manifesto highlights in sign language here).

The interaction was organized at Maha Bodhi Society Hall in central Kolkata and attracted a small but attentive audience of around 40 people. The audience included persons with different types of disabilities, their family members and allies, social activists, CPI(M) members, and media persons. Professor Nandini Mukherjee and Kaninika Bose Ghosh, CPI(M) candidates for the Kolkata Dakshin and Kolkata Uttar Lok Sabha seats, respectively, were present for the interaction and viewed the sign language presentation of the manifesto with rapt attention (see below).

This illustration is a photo quote. The upper half of the illustration shows a narrow, wide expanse photograph of the speakers at the disability rights interaction organized by the CPI(M) in Kolkata on May 5, 2019. Shampa Sengupta, Joint Secretary, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled, Kolkata makes a speech on the podium, with sign language interpreter Rajani Banerjee in the forefront below the podium; others on the podium include (from left to right) Professor Ishita Mukhopadhyay who teaches labour economics, gender and development at the University of Calcutta; Anirban Mukherjee, Executive Committee member of the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled and CPI(M) member; Kaninika Bose Ghosh, Kolkata Uttar Lok Sabha election candidate; and Professor Nandini Mukherjee, Kolkata Dakshin Lok Sabha election candidate. The quote text says: “The interaction was organized at Maha Bodhi Society Hall and attracted an attentive audience of around 40 people. Professor Nandini Mukherjee (extreme right) and Kaninika Bose Ghosh (second from right), CPI(M) candidates for the Kolkata Dakshin and Kolkata Uttar Lok Sabha seats, respectively, were present and viewed the sign language presentation of the manifesto with rapt attention”. Photo courtesy CPI(M)

Shampa Sengupta, Joint Secretary, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled makes a speech on the podium, with sign language interpreter Rajani Banerjee in the forefront; others on the podium include (from left to right) Professor Ishita Mukhopadhyay who teaches labour economics, gender and development at the University of Calcutta; Anirban Mukherjee, Executive Committee member of the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled and CPI(M) member; Kaninika Bose Ghosh, Kolkata Uttar Lok Sabha election candidate; and Professor Nandini Mukherjee, Kolkata Dakshin Lok Sabha election candidate. Photo courtesy CPI(M)

Among all major political parties in India, the CPI(M) is one of the few that has had a long association with disability rights. Late Sadhan Chandra Gupta (1917-2015), associated with the CPI(M), was the first blind Member of Parliament (MP) in independent India. Ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, CPI(M) was the only political party to have brought out a separate folder on disability issues.

More recently, in 2015, when the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill was being protested vehemently by disability rights activists, CPI(M) MP Sitaram Yechuri took the lead in ensuring that the Bill was referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee for further deliberations and improvements.

The sensibility derived from this long engagement with the issue, not in the least because of the untiring advocacy undertaken by disability rights groups and activists, was evident in the party’s manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls (read manifesto here). It covered a comprehensive range of issues – budgetary allocations for and implementation of Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 and Mental Healthcare Act, 2017; review of National Disability Policy; simplifying and speeding up disability certification procedures; education and employment opportunities; making public spaces, transport and other services fully accessible; availability of sign language interpreters and disability-friendly broadcast media; zero tolerance for abuse of persons with disabilities; and several social protection measures.

This photograph shows another scene from the disability rights interaction organized by the CPI(M) in Kolkata on May 5, 2019. To the left of the photograph is disability rights activist Shampa Sengupta making a speech on the podium, while sign language interpreter Rajani Banerjee can be seen to the right of the photograph, standing below the podium and interpreting Shampa Sengupta’s speech. On the podium are the other speakers – National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled Executive Committee member Anirban Mukherjee, Professor Ishita Mukhopadhyay, and Professor Nandini Mukherjee of the CPI(M). In the background, on the wall behind the podium, is a huge banner that shows a smiling Kaninika Bose Ghosh with folded hands, CPI(M) candidate for the Kolkata Uttar Lok Sabha seat. Next to her photograph is text in Bengali that displays her name in bold letters and talks about her party’s commitment to the cause of persons with disabilities. On the top right corner of the banner is the CPI(M) logo, and on the bottom right corner are the party’s social media handles. A similar banner is hung in front of a table on the podium behind which the speakers are seated. Tall and semi-ornate white pillars, one each on the four corners of the podium, present an attractive picture, as does the tapestry on the high ceiling of the hall and French windows behind the podium to its right. Photo credit: Rith Das

Sign language interpreter Rajani Banerjee (forefront right) keeps pace with disability rights activist Shampa Sengupta as she talks about the CPI(M) manifesto’s focus on disability issues. Photo credit: Rith Das

As disability rights activist Shampa Sengupta pointed out, “The manifesto doesn’t ‘label’ persons with disabilities and limit them to just one page or section; rather it integrates disability with other human development concerns. Disability issues find a mention throughout the manifesto, including in the sections concerning children, women, protection from sexual abuse, food security, and senior citizens and pensions.”

Sumanta Ghosh (standing to the left below the podium in the main photograph on top) is associated with a disability rights network – he spoke about the poor socio-economic opportunities for persons with disabilities. He said, “I’ve tried approaching many government bodies, but there’s been little help and even lesser availability of funds for creating opportunities for us.”

Anirban Mukherjee, an Executive Committee member of the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) and active CPI(M) member, said there was a need to democratize the sports structures in India for para-athletes. He said, “Players must be involved in decision making processes, as in the case of other sports.” Several medal-winning Indian para-athletes present in the audience cheered in response.

Professor Nandini Mukherjee remarked that, if elected, she would make it a priority to push for the implementation of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. She said she would work to make easy access to educational opportunities, public spaces and publications in Braille a reality.

This photograph is similar to the previous one – another scene from the disability rights interaction organized by the CPI(M) in Kolkata on May 5, 2019. Sign language interpreter Nabanita can be seen right in the forefront, explaining a point to the audience, but the speaker who she is interpreting is not the picture. Behind her on the podium are the main speakers of the occasion – National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled Executive Committee member Anirban Mukherjee is first from left; Professor Ishita Mukhopadhyay is talking with the CPI(M) Lok Sabha polls candidates Kaninika Bose Ghosh and Professor Nandini Mukherjee; while disability rights activist Shampa Sengupta looks on. Behind the podium is a banner that presents a smiling Kaninika Bose Ghosh with folded hands, as the CPI(M) candidate for the Kolkata Uttar Lok Sabha seat. Next to her photograph is text in Bengali that displays her name and talks about her party’s commitment to the cause of persons with disabilities. A similar banner is hung in front of a table on the podium behind which the speakers are seated. Photo credit: Rith Das

Sign language interpreter Nabanita (in the forefront), associated with the Helen Keller Badhir Vidyalaya, Kolkata, explains a point to the audience (speaker not in the picture). Photo credit: Rith Das

Kaninika Bose Ghosh claimed that CPI(M) was the only political party voicing the concerns of persons with disabilities, and said that her priority too would be on promoting access for persons with disabilities in Kolkata. Her statement was not unjustified since most of the other major political parties seem to have been silent on disability issues. Speakers at the interaction said the central government’s much acclaimed ‘Accessible India Campaign’ had little to show in terms of concrete progress.

The crucial issue remains that disability rights cannot be the concern of only one or two political parties. It has to become an integral part of the development dialogue in India. One hopes that the example set by CPI(M) will be emulated across party lines.

Inset: ‘VCR Diary’ – queer citizen journalism in action! Varta’s new column that brings you news and analysis on issues concerning queer and other marginalized communities in eastern and north-eastern India. Content published under this monthly column is contributed by participants in the Varta Community Reporters (VCR) Training and Citizen Journalism Programme – Multi-state Pilot (February to July 2019). The VCR programme aims to build communication, documentation and journalistic skills among youth and other groups marginalized around gender, sexuality or other social markers. In the process, it also attempts to enhance the employability of the participants. The programme includes training workshops, mentoring, and writers workshops on gender, sexuality, human rights, communication, documentation and storytelling. The current pilot is the second under the VCR programme. It covers Assam, Manipur and West Bengal states, and there are four VCRs (all queer individuals) engaged in the programme. This second pilot programme aims to facilitate queer community monitoring of sexual health, mental health and legal aid services in India, especially with regard to how queer-friendly these services are in their content and functioning. The pilot supplements a Varta Trust project focussed on an online locator on queer friendly sexual health, mental health and legal aid service providers in India (2017-19). The locator is hosted on the Varta website at www.vartagensex.org/reachout.php. The project is a three-way collaboration between Varta Trust, Kolkata; SAATHII, Chennai; and Grindr For Equality, Los Angeles, USA. The first pilot of this programme was conducted in Manipur from March to August 2018, and stories generated through the pilot were published under the ‘Manipur Diary’ column – Editor.

Visit this page for more details on the Varta Community Reporters Training and Citizen Journalism Programme.

About the main photo: Sumanta Ghosh (standing to the left below the podium), who is associated with a disability rights network in Kolkata, makes a point during the interaction organized by CPI(M) on May 5, 2019. On the podium are Professor Ishita Mukhopadhyay, faculty at the University of Calcutta (standing and furthest away); Anirban Mukherjee, Executive Committee member of the NPRD and CPI(M) member (partially hidden); Kaninika Bose Ghosh, Kolkata Uttar Lok Sabha election candidate; and Professor Nandini Mukherjee, Kolkata Dakshin Lok Sabha election candidate (closest to the camera). Photo credit: Rith Das

Author Photo

Rith Das

Rith Das is a photography enthusiast based in Kolkata.

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