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 Assaults 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).
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 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 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.”
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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.