What is in a name!
Today, we are globally celebrating International Day of Disabled Persons under the theme “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world” The Day was proclaimed in 1992, by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3. Internationally the observance of the Day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.
The observance of International Day for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. UN bodies create the opportunity to the countries to safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities and create inclusion by breaking the barriers but at country level the persons with disabilities have to always beg for small things. Thus conditions are absolutely miserable.
As per the theme created by United Nations Leadership of Persons with Disabilities, there is a need to be highly sensitive, and take leads in empowering persons with disabilities and build capacities of persons with disabilities to become leaders. In addition the theme motivates countries to create accessibility, inclusion for persons with disabilities, so that persons with disabilities can sustain even when the hardships of COVID 19 destroyed lives and economy. The Disability Sector in J&K lags behind in the areas of leadership. There are no proper educational facilities for persons with disabilities, thus less number of persons with disabilities are able to volunteer for seeking leadership trainings. The stakeholders in all departments have less sensitivity towards empowerment and development of persons with disabilities.
Due to COVID 19 the educational activities were highly affected throughout our country, but in J&K it is affected to the maximum extent. The education of children with disabilities has been fully affected due to lack of resources and facilities. The special educators available for children with disabilities are less in number. Most of the employed teachers appointed have switched to other departments because resource teachers in J&K are getting consolidated salaries for past 10 years. The resource teachers are working in far flung areas and have been working tirelessly to educate and rehabilitate the children with disabilities. In comparison to the other teaching faculties the work of resource teachers is highly cumbersome and lots of efforts are needed to educate the children with disabilities, and that too without proper infrastructure and facilities. Government should regularize services of resource teachers.
The online teaching excludes children with various types of disabilities. No teaching, or little teaching on short term basis completely, downgrades the education of children with disabilities. J&K Board of School Education, lacking sensitivity towards educational rights of persons with disabilities, announced 30% syllabus relaxation for all but didn’t utter a word for children with disabilities who didn’t get proper education since lockdown was announced on August 5, 2019.
Even stakeholders and staff looking into examination matters either suspect the capabilities of students with disabilities, or put labels on them, thus discouraging them. Even the currently going on board exams brought tears to the eyes of many students with disabilities who were denied writers on basis of gender; that a boy can’t provide services as amanuensis to a girl student and vice versa. In addition a CBSE student can’t be a scribe for J&K Board registered student. A student from private institute cannot be writer for government school student. On the one hand the Ministry of Social Justice empowerment is consuming country’s wealth for removing social and infrastructural and communication barriers; on the contrary the J&K board has been violating Honourable Supreme Court orders, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment guidelines and Social Welfare Department objectives. For past 5 years situation is unchanged, even the representations from disability sector, letters of instructions from three consecutive Secretaries of department of education were either put in trash boxes or became diet to moths in the files of J&K Board of school education. The Board team creates barriers, discouraging children with disabilities.
It could have been a strong policy of J&K board to register all students with disabilities from class nine 9th and keep a column in all exam forms whether a student with disability needs scribe or not? If yes, the local Board office in districts should take steps in this matter. The high school & higher secondary clerical staff should get an instruction from J&K Board to register students with disabilities and fill columns, and details of disability properly in online forms. The J&K Bard should have taken pains in formulating guidelines stronger than CBSE to provide all facilities for children with disabilities during exams. J&K Board should have provided pdf format books to children with blindness and books in audio format as well, but the board neither provides such books nor facilities of scribe in examination. Still, Disability sector is optimistic that future policies of J&K Board would be friendly and inclusive for children with disabilities. May be JK Board authorities will go through the theme of Disability Day created by the the UN.
The recruiting agencies of J&K created new records of discrimination in favour of aspirants with disabilities. All reserved categories selection lists were notified except selection of persons with disabilities. Rest of the selected category aspirants have joined, drawn salary, and aspirants with disabilities are waiting. In light of UN theme, JK PSC and J&K SSB should get awards for discriminating against the disables. Both these recruiting agencies have high acceptance for charity model rather than empowering persons with disabilities through livelihood with dignity. There is a big communication gap among GAD, J&K Social Welfare Department and recruitment agencies; thus their actions harm the future of persons with disabilities. Honorable Lieutenant Governor, The Chief Secretary of J&K, and the Department of Social Welfare should look into the matter seriously and direct the recruiting agencies to formulate guideline to serve the jobs to eligible and deserving persons with disabilities, in light of Honourable Supreme Court directions from time to time, and also keeping in mind the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016. There are only 21 types of bench mark disabilities; the recruiting agencies should write in all notifications which job is identified for which type of persons with disabilities. Recently many types of persons with disabilities filled forms, appeared in J&K SSB selection tests, and met hundreds of challenges. But at the time of selection various selected candidates were dropped from selection list with single line reply; “Your type of disability has not been identified in selection list”.
COVID 19 crushed the economy of persons with disabilities. The persons having high support needs are not in a position to cater to their needs, the integrated social security amount given to persons with disabilities is rupees one thousand which is very meager; thus persons with disabilities are forced to beg and rely on charity models of life. On the one hand educational facilities are lacking, on the other hand, the negligible social security money is putting lives of persons with disabilities in trouble. The Home Ministry, PMO, Lieutenant Governor secretariat should take cognizance of this matter and raise social security money in light of pay commissions, and financial recommendations on yearly basis. The social security money in conflict affected and hilly zones should be at-least 6000 per month so that persons with disabilities can survive with dignity.
SC / ST /OBC corporation and women’s development corporation are the channelizing agencies for the grant of advances / loan for the startup of livelihood generation units under National Handicapped Finance Development Corporation, providing special loans to youth with disabilities on low interests. Persons with disabilities from all districts have applied for the grant of such loans but again the guidelines are not followed by the channelizing agencies. There is a provision that up to 4 lakh rupees loan; no one shall be asked to get Government employee as the guarantor. But in some district offices two government employees are asked to give guarantees for seeking loan, and bribe is demanded to sanction the cases. In some offices the staff has not been transferred from years and their stay in same office has made them high headed, and they sanction loans as per their choice. The files of many youth with disabilities are pending for sanctions. There should be some vigilance body to keep an eye on implementation of the scheme.
The corona virus impact can be minimized in this group only when economic empowerment of persons with disabilities happens. From last three years the lockdowns have downgraded business of persons with disabilities, but the recovery officials of SC ST OBC corporation have been rudely dealing with entrepreneurs with disabilities. Government should announce amnesty up to 50000 amount on all sort of loans availed by persons with disabilities for their respectful sustainability.
For seeking labour registration, registration for vehicles, seeking driving license, railway concession and aids and appliances, a person with disability has to approach a doctor for signing different forms. A person with disability possess disability certificate but all departments keep it aside and direct a person with disability to visit hospital again and again. Thus most of the times the doctors deny signing different forms related to disability. In case of railway concession forms the name and registration details are needed in the stamps but the doctors don’t provide the facility hence most of the persons with disabilities are denied railway concession facilities. The seal of hospital is needed but no hospital in J&K provides such a seal. There should be designated doctors available for the persons with disabilities, so that sufferings of the disability sector ends.
The severely disabled persons, like spinal cord injured, cerebral palsy affected children and persons dependent on psychiatry medicines, who need high support, are guaranteed financial assistance under chapter 7 of Rights of persons with Disabilities Act 2016. The cases of persons facing severe disabilities should be processed so that their high support needs are fulfilled on priority.
While availing various benefits under government sponsored schemes, persons with disabilities are asked to produce family income certificates. It is evident that persons with disabilities are mostly unemployed and hence their income is the social security money given by Social Welfare Department. The unemployed persons with disabilities should not be asked to produce family income certificate, but they should get all benefits on their personal income or social security pension. The revenue authorities, especially the Financial Commissioner revenue JK, and Divisional Commissioners should take cognizance of the matter. The persons with disabilities should be dealt with and supported in an empathetic way at revenue offices.
The Department of health has been issuing disability certificates more than the prescription pages. Recent recruitments revealed that disability certificates have been issued in favour of non-disabled educated persons who get job under disability quota; thus mar the rights of deserving and highly educated persons with disabilities. The real and deserving persons with disabilities face hardships, and humiliations while pursuing education. They don’t have access to libraries and coaching centers. They are still carried in laps by their family members, hand held by others, begging for scribes/ helpers, they attain qualifications. But some insensitive medical boards, on influence or through bribes issue certificates in favour of non disabled. The additional Chief Secretary holding the charge of Department of Health should strengthen Medical Boards in all districts and take serious note of fake disability certificates. The availability of all doctors should be ensured in all medical boards. In most of the medical boards the cases are referred to other hospitals hence frauds happen. The honest doctors having good track record should only be assigned the duty to issue disability certificates.
Under National Food Security Act NFSA, 2013, the persons with disabilities are entitled to free ration and coverage under AAY schemes but the ration cards to the persons with disabilities have not been issued yet. The persons with disabilities have completed all formalities and the files are pending in Tehsil supply offices without any proper reason. The Government of J&K should implement Honorable Supreme Court orders and the instructions from central Ministry of Consumer Affairs Department, which all other states have already implemented in letter and spirit.
The recreation and places of entertainment are full of barriers for persons with disabilities. The construction agencies, tourism development authorities, tourism department and floriculture department should coordinate to make all places of recreation barrier free and disable friendly. The cable car projects and amusement parks have failed to provide services to visitors with disabilities. Recreation and entertainment is needed more by persons with disabilities than non-disabled persons, but the cae is reverse in our state. Floriculture department has been growing flowers and beautifying parks for pasting the pictures in various calendars; better will be to give access to persons with disabilities who can enjoy the natural sceneries. Let us divert one years of beautifying parks to make them accessible for all.
In creating inclusion and ensuring sustainability all the departments have to play a role. We don’t have to wait for the special days to come. We are accountable and will be asked about our deeds one day. So let us safeguard rights of persons with disabilities as co-humans and thank Almighty that we are not in place of a Javed, who is wheelchair bound, and most of the times waiting for others to come and help. Let all the stake holders identify the role and take lead in making lives of persons with disabilities, easy and meaningfull. Prioritizing the disability affairs is the need of the time. Let us take pledge to safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities today.
Javed Ahmad Tak was awarded Padma Shri recently
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.