Part 1 | Status of the Disabled in J&K

There are serious problems in the structures, processes, and attitudes when it comes to handling the affairs of the persons with disabilities
Part 1 | Status of the Disabled in J&K

As a person with severe disability, bound to a wheelchair, I have been personally organizing the World Disability Day events since 2005, since my entry in Social Work Department, University of Kashmir, as student. Only five to seven persons with disabilities were part of the first programme in which then Vice Chancellor University of Kashmir, Prof. Abdul Wahid Qureshi was the Chief Guest. Then Head of the Department Commerce, and Financial Control, Mr Ghulam Mohiudeen Sangmi allowed his class students to join the event; that is how the Gandhi Bawan, Kashmir University auditorium, was filled in, observing the World Disability Day 2005. Today, all the districts in J&K witness the event, and in Kashmir University itself a number of programmes are organized.

At National level the Directorate of Disability Affairs, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, has been organizing a high level programme on Awareness on Disability Rights in the capital city on World Disability Day. The Role models and other high profile persons with disabilities are awarded. Other capital cities, including Srinagar, witness protests by the disabled people's organizations and activists working for the rights of persons with disabilities. Even some institutions and care giving agencies organize capacity shows of various types of children with disabilities, while as some events witness distribution of aids and appliances among needy persons with disabilities. Almost all events are having provision of refreshment and snacks with tea. But the real objective is not fulfilled.

Post Covid:

The International Day for persons with disabilities is always commemorated under the theme fixed by the UN, and this year the theme for the day is "Building back better: towards an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world by, for and with persons with disabilities".

The children facing autism, severe neurological disorders, cerebral palsy and other mental disabilities remained far from intervention and educational processes. The persons in need of physiotherapy and pressure sore management also suffered during COVID 19. A fresh process to restore rehabilitation process for  persons with disabilities  needs to be started.

Monetary Assistance:

The reality on ground is that disability is still a charity dependent sector in J&K. The only scheme to empower persons with disabilities economically is Integrated Social Security Scheme – ISSS, under which rupees one thousand is given to person with disabilities to survive; managing life with such meager amount is impossible. The persons with disabilities have high support needs and most of the children with disabilities face epileptic seizures, and need medicines on regular basis. Apart from the living needs the youth with disabilities pursuing studies have to purchase books, make travel expenses, buy supportive devices, and fulfill other important requirements. The persons with severe disabilities, bed ridden or bound to wheelchairs, are completely dependent on medicinal and maintenance needs. Thus the Integrated Social Security pension is too low to maintain life. In many other states, like Delhi and Goa, Social Security support money given to persons with disabilities is Rs. 2500/- and Rs. 3500/- respectively. Jammu & Kashmir, being a mountainous zone and having harsh climatic conditions, life for persons with disabilities is tough and full of challenges. The social security amount, in J&K, should be at least Rs. 5000.

Disabled-friendly Buildings

The Prime Minister of India launched Accessibility India Campaign on the eve of World Disability Day, 2015. The campaign was launched to renovate and repair old buildings, and create accessibility for persons with disabilities in all government offices. After proper access audit, the budget was sanctioned by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, and the money was disbursed to Social Welfare Department J&K. The Public Works Department was notified as the implementation agency to utilize the budget, but both Social Welfare Department and Public Works Department failed to serve the persons with disabilities in J&K. The saddest part is that new buildings under construction through various agencies are not disable-friendly. Even the hospital buildings, court buildings,  educational institution, and the mini secretariats at district level under construction through JKPCC and Public Works department are all unfriendly to the disabled.

Employment Opportunities:

Employment is the real empowerment for persons with disabilities. J&K Services Selection Recruitment Board, JK Public Services Commission, and other departmental recruiting agencies have been highly insensitive about ensuring reservations for educated and eligible persons with disabilities. Recently JKSSRB conducted selection test for the post of "Panchayat Accounts Assistant" and a circular was notified by the JKSSRB under No No.SSB/Sel/Secy/2020/3709-21 Dated :- 29-10-2020, depicting that aspirants facing cerebral palsy, upper limb disability and blindness will get the scribe facilities only against the signing two forms from competent authorities. After undergoing the formality most of the aspirants facing these disabilities were not allowed to sit in the selection test with their scribes or amanuensis. Even there was no proper accommodation for persons with disabilities. The reservation of persons with disabilities is served very decently through staff selection commission and UPSC but the recruiting agencies have been discriminating against the persons with disabilities, thus clearly violating the Disabilities Act 2016 passed by the Parliament of India. Recruiting agencies in J&K, especially JKPSC & JKSSRB, should maintain the backlog register and conduct a special employment drive for the educated persons with disabilities, so that the persons at the verge of age limit could live a life without hardships.

Issuing Disability Certificate

Disability Certificate is the important document for the identification of persons with disabilities. The persons with disabilities are entitled to all sort of benefits only after the production of the disability certificate. The disability certificates were earlier issued offline through medical boards. The records were not maintained well in these district medical boards. Lot of tampering cases were recorded, and physically fit persons were getting the benefits of employment, and ISSS economic benefits. A lot of such cases were recorded  in the Bandipora district where three teachers were suspended as they had snatched the right of the persons with disabilities, using fake disability certificates.

Now the disability certificates are issued online through www.swavlambancard.gov.in in order to keep the online record of issued certificates available for verifications. This was a relief, but the medical boards are not optimally working. The specialists are not available with the medical boards, thus persons with disabilities are referred to secondary or tertiary care hospitals, where from they get assessment reports to prepare the disability certificate. All this complicated procedure troubles the persons with disabilities. Recently a case of death was reported outside the medical board Srinagar; the child who was appearing in the 10th Class Board examinations, needed a helper / Amanuensis. According to the statement in a viral video by the victim's sister, JK Board officials denied the scribe and then the child with 75% neurological disability, accompanied by his mother & sister reached the Medical Board located at Jawahar-nagar, Srinagar. Both the family members requested the doctors, and the helping staff, to bring a doctor to the vehicle in which the child was boarded, for assessment. Because the medical board was on top floor of the building, and it was difficult for the female family members to present the child along with his wheel chair before Medical Board members.  Reportedly the employees and the doctors in the board showed insensitivity. Three year delay and humiliation put stress on the child's psyche and he died on the spot. Who is to be blamed for this?

I have personally met the Advisor to Lieutenant Governor, Financial Commissioner  Health & Medical Education Department in the civil secretariat and narrated the whole situation regarding the inefficiency of the Medical Boards in J&K. Even the Director Health (Kashmir) was appraised about the difficulties, but nothing happens.

Another serious issue; that online certification gets hampered in district medical board when a CMO gets transferred, or seeks superannuation.  In Shopian Medical Boards around one thousand persons with disabilities suffer, because the Digital Signature available online for the issuance of disability certificate is not being changed after retirement of the Ex-CMO. The present Chief Medical Officer Shopian is unable to upload his Digital Signature on the website www.swavlambancard.gov.in. Despite making series of communications to DC Shopian, DIC, Director Health Kashmir, and Director Disability Affairs, Government of India, CMO Shopian is helpless to issue disability certificates.

(To be continued)

Javed Ahmad Tak, Social Activist, Honorary Chairman Humanity Welfare Organisation HELPLINE NGO, Bijbehara, District Anantnag Kashmir.

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