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.
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.
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.