Volume 8 Issue 6 - March 15, 2011

Consultations on new disability law: the sham, the shame and the blame game

Participants at the Dehradun Consultation
Participants at the Dehradun Consultation

While Minister, Social Justice and Empowerment, in all good intentions announced on February 11 that none should be left out to say that she/he had a view but did not get an opportunity, his own Committee drafting the new disability law has just shown to the world how not to organise Consultations! From missing translations to hurried translations to slamming the doors on genuine stakeholders, the recently completed State Consultations on the Working Draft of the new disability law went from bad to worse. Mariam Jafri of D.N.I.S. gives an overview of what happened or did not happen in these Consultations and what the disability sector had to say about them.

The disability sector is witnessing a great movement. The drafting of a new disability rights law in consultation with each and every person affected by disability was a very romantic idea. None should be left out to say that she/he had a view but did not get an opportunity, said Mr. Mukul Wasnik, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment before flagging off a series of state level consultations for the whole of India. His words echoed the feelings of many who have been fighting for disability rights and justice.

There was a need for a good translation in regional languages for every state to make this possible, as expressed by the Ministry, the National Trust, the Disabled Peoples Organizations (D.P.O.s), disabled people, parents, EVERYONE! A total of 17 consultations (combined and individual) began on February 15, 2011 to be concluded by March 15, 2011.

What followed this was anger and uproar in some states, disappointment and deceit in many others.

In order to assess these Pan-India consultations, we thought it would be a good idea to begin with the basics of each consultation as stated by the government, (i) the translation of the draft in all regional languages, (ii) the translations made widely available to each one in the sector, and (iii) effective participation of the disability sector in the consultations. This was what the government wanted, the disabled people hoped for and the consultations were all about.

There was great enthusiasm. The time had finally come when disabled people could see nothing about us without us turn real. What transpired in reality was nothing anyone imagined, hoped, or was even prepared for.

The online Hindi translation came only on February 21, just 7 days before the consultation, taking much longer to be converted into Unicode, Braille and audio and then to be distributed to the nook and corners of Delhi, N.C.R. and Haryana. Hence leaving very little time for anyone to read and understand it. The Hindi translation, along with English to some extent was going to be used by the multi-lingual country of ours, either because the regional language translations of the draft law did not happen at all or because they did not reach the people for a very long time.

The Marathi translation came only 5 days prior to the consultation. Ketan Kothari called it poor and Lata Bhise, disability activist found it to be full of mistakes. The Tamil version came out 2 days prior to the consultation in Chennai! Jammu and Kashmir managed a very hurriedly done translation in Urdu in the form of a link a day before the consultation in the evening. The Punjabi translation did not happen at all. Gujarat had to re-organize its consultation after a virtual revolt at the first one, because a translation in Gujarati was done only of the Executive Summary and not the full draft law. Madhya Pradesh went ahead with the consultation even before the Hindi translation was done!! Sonu Golkar of Viklang Manch demanded that the consultation should be reorganized. However, the committee kept silent and a fresh consultation never happened.

A good and easy to understand translation with its timely release was the key for the entire consultation process to match its own vision. It was extremely important for the draft to reach the people and for them to have sufficient time to read and understand the 115 pages of law that could turn their lives around.

Internet is definitely a boon for the computer savvies and not so much for the remote corners of India. Sending out links or soft copies does not seem justified when one talks about involving the rural and the underprivileged. The reality is that many Non Governmental Organizations (N.G.O.s) /D.P.O.s also do not have access to e-mails or even computers. This specifically happened in the case of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. Javed Ahmed Tak had to request Human Rights Law Network (H.R.L.N.), the local coordinators to give him at least a copy of the Urdu translation per N.G.O./D.P.O. Amitabh Mehrotras request for some more time to ensure that everyone received a copy of the draft in such a huge state as Uttar Pradesh was declined.

Some states however made that extra effort to make sure they reached out. Karnataka organized about 23 district level consultations before proceeding to the state level consultation. Organizations such as Action for Ability Development and Inclusion (A.A.D.I.) and Vishwas came forward to do the same for Delhi, N.C.R. and Haryana. The same happened in Bengal, thanks to Disability Activists Forum (D.A.F.).

Despite efforts made by a few individuals and/or a few organizations, the consequence of this overall negligence did not come as a surprise. There were many who got left out of this big exercise, either because they had no information about the consultations or they didnt receive a copy of the draft or didnt get the time to read this heavy document.

Nevertheless, there were many who were determined to make it into the consultations, to voice their anger and give their suggestions. There were also many who simply decided to boycott the process calling it a sham.

The Maharashtra and Goa consultations left the deaf and the intellectually disabled underrepresented, felt Ketan Kothari and Lata Bhise. After waiting for the invitation, I sent a mail to Ramakrishnan a few days in advance seeking an invitation for the organization to participate. Unfortunately there was no response and we did not get the opportunity to participate in the deliberations, shared Amrit Bakshy of Schizophrenia Awareness Association. The consultation neither had representation from all disabilities, nor all districts. The number of participants was reported to be 125 (a figure contested by other participants) while 25 of them happened to be students from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

Commenting on the Delhi Consultation, General Ian Cardozo, a committee member felt that only 50% of the sector had taken it seriously. Only 56 participants was indeed a poor figure for the 2 day consultation that included Delhi, N.C.R. and Haryana! One can indeed believe it, as Geeta Chaturvedi of Vishwas told us, only 4-5 districts of Haryana were represented out of 21.

While some point out to poor representation of different disabilities, Amarjeet Singh Anand of Punjab and Balbir Guleria of Himachal Pradesh were concerned about the rural areas being left out. In the case of Himachal Pradesh, many small, grassroot N.G.O.s could not participate in the consultation for the simple reason that they didnt have money to pay for the travel and accommodation in Dehradun and their queries regarding reimbursement for the same were not answered by National Institute for Visually Handicapped (N.I.V.H.), the organizers. The same thing happened in Tamil Nadu, where the local coordinating committee refused to pay for the Travel Allowance/Daily Allowance and accommodation of participants despite an allocated budget of Rs. 1.5 lakh for every consultation.

Narendra Paul felt that the Himachal consultation was organised on a very short notice, because of which there was no information about the consultation amongst D.P.O.s, activists, parents and disabled people. Hard copies of the draft law never reached them. Only two people were there from the N.G.O.s and rest were all government officials in the name of the disability sector.

It was Tamil Nadu that stole the show. While the rest of the country was mostly unaware of the process, Tamil Nadu was preparing to take everyone by surprise. They all came, parents, disabled people, N.G.O.s and D.P.O.s. Their intention however was not to participate but to boycott their state consultation. The media reported, The representatives of disability rights groups were visibly peeved. What do they know about our problems? We are the ones who live with disability. What is the purpose of this consultation when we are not part of it? Their protest delayed the event by over two hours.

A parents group in Bihar known as Patliputra Parents Association was refused admission into the consultation at the venue because they had not been invited! They were not even given a copy of the draft!

What is the hurry? Mukul Wasnik had asked way before the consultations began.

However, National Trust and its partners to whom the task of organizing the consultations was entrusted succeeded in making a complete mockery of the Ministers statement and advise.

The consultations were hurriedly conducted. Doing a state consultation just for the sake of it and getting a crowd of people (who have not been exposed to the process) makes no sense, commented Subhash Chandra Vashisht, a Delhi based disability lawyer.

I want to be on record as saying we are rushing the process for no good reason. Accessibility is what we are all about. If we dont make the process accessible, if we disable linguistically, then how can we expect real change? lamented Jo Chopra of Latika Roy Foundation, Dehradun.

No one can deny that consultations across the country have been by and large botched up. Now that they have happened and happened in the most undesired way, one really wonders what will happen to the hopes of hundreds and thousands of disabled people, their parents and families.

Will this draft bill ever become a law?

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