Volume 8 Issue 8 - November 15, 2011
Implementing C.R.P.D.: The Politics of Reform
The second Workshop on Monitoring the Implementation of C.R.P.D. again highlighted some of the excellent work being done by disability rights activists and leaders in India. Disabled activists with different kinds of disabilities represented their constituencies and mulled on how to make C.R.P.D. come alive in their lives in a real sense. The Workshop, however, brought to the fore the extents to which disabled persons are deprived of their rights at the grassroots level in India. Shilpi Ganguly of D.N.I.S., who participated in the Workshop, underscores the long road ahead before C.R.P.D. becomes a reality for the last person with disability in the country.
The enthusiasm and interest generated by the first International Disability Alliance (I.D.A.) Workshop in June 2011, in collaboration with N.C.P.E.D.P. and supported by Disabled Peoples Organisations – Denmark (D.P.O.D.) on Monitoring the Implementation of the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (C.R.P.D.), called for another one to be held again. Four months later, the participants of the first workshop, along with a few new ones, were back for the rigour and grind of the training.
The workshop, led by Alexander Cote, Capacity Building Programme Officer at I.D.A., brought together many disabled activists, leaders and parents of persons with disabilities from various parts of the country. In line with the spirit of C.R.P.D., the activists themselves were from all walks of the disabled community, ranging from people with locomotor impairment, visual and hearing and speech impairment, cerebral palsy to psycho social, intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.
Though the work that each participant has been doing within the disability sector speaks of their understanding of the concerned issues, the workshop threw up a number of challenges and tested the ways in which C.R.P.D. can be implemented at all levels in a vast country like India.
It was first mentioned by Zorin Singha, President of the National Association of the Deaf (N.A.D.) in a casual comment that a visit to Geneva, Switzerland on the sidelines of the C.R.P.D. Committee Meeting as an Observer, made him realise that advocacy and politics are intricately related; but the essence of this statement was to dominate the workshop on all four days. Cote could not emphasise enough that everything is politics and empowerment is about restructuring the balance of power.
The first Workshop in June was about understanding the basics of C.R.P.D. and how it works in conjunction with the human rights bodies of the United Nations. Besides refreshing the critical articles of C.R.P.D. and its national and international monitoring, the emphasis this time was on the politics of policy reform. It was repeatedly pointed out that any social movement in a country is in a sort of symbiotic relation with the State, as the structure of governance and the space for civil society are heavily influenced by the government’s degree of responsiveness and openness. The participants were mobilised to come up with their views on what constitutes a ‘good’ policy and what kind of factors influence and inform policy makers when they go in for policy reform. This seemingly simple exercise turned out to be fairly challenging, perhaps because the perspective of a D.P.O. is too firmly entrenched in the minds of the participants for them to put themselves into the shoes of a policy maker.
Importantly though, the exercise highlighted the need for D.P.O.s and other organisations working in the disability sector to engage and negotiate with the State and policy makers in a language they understand. This also made the group talk about money, government funds, budgets and the overall budgetary process of the country. Presentations by Subrat Das, Executive Director, Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (C.B.G.A.) and his colleague Pooja Parvati on how the budget functions and what share of the G.D.P. is allocated for the social sector was an eye-opening experience for all present.
The mornings of the workshop were devoted to refreshing the purpose and the critical articles of C.R.P.D. It was an exercise in training the disability leaders on how to take C.R.P.D. to the local level. For local consultations, it was suggested that the C.R.P.D. presentation should be short and precise. It is important to take some time to explain the General Principles of Article 3 as it forms the soul of the Convention. At the end of the session, the main aim is to leave people with a few essential terms of reference such as “non-discrimination”, “inclusion”, “freedom of choice”, “participation” etc. As Cote said, explaining C.R.P.D., highlighting the shift of paradigm, is after all, propaganda of sorts!
An issue flagged by Cote was the danger of the disability sector becoming too narrow and inward-looking. He emphasised as to how important it is for the disability movement to join hands with other social justice movements at large. According to him, the importance of creating or opening a political window cannot be emphasised enough, and for that any disability movement needs to be a part of the bigger picture in the social sector.
One of the core outcomes of the discussion on budget with Subrat Das was that the Indian Government does not spend enough on social services related to health, education, water and sanitation, nutrition and other such services related to human development in comparison to other developing nations. In such a scenario, according to Cote, if the disability sector makes a demand for a separate share of an already thin slice of the pie, it is not likely to gain much. The trick is to join forces with other groups in the fight for an increased share for social policy in the critical mass of government funding and to make every single penny inclusive by bringing a disability perspective to the overall social sector budgeting.
One of the reasons for the government to not allocate enough resources for the social sector is the failure of the elected representatives of the nation to track and monitor the Union and State Budgets, said Das. Clearly, the disability sector has to invest a lot more time and energy to ensure that Members of Parliament monitor the budget better and are held accountable for it – an issue that has not been given enough attention so far.
With the workshop coming to an end, participants were grappling with nearly the last level of energy at their disposal! It was nevertheless clear that they were taking back with them a wealth of shared knowledge, expertise and experiences.
Perhaps one of the most valuable things about the workshop and a feeling that everybody carried back with them, was that C.R.P.D. did not remain at the level of discourse alone. The highlight of the workshop was the inclusivity of the participants not only in terms of the diversity of disabilities, but also the respect to be seen for each other within the diverse group. Cote spoke warmly of the level of understanding and accommodation extended to each constituency. In a group where everyone has a host of specific issues to deal with, it may not be the easiest thing to bring a cross-disability perspective not only in discussions, but in one’s attitude as well.
The best however, was saved for the last. It augurs very well for the Indian disability movement that it is being seen as a resource and an example for others to follow. Cote, during the closure of the workshop, commended the group for the level of understanding, expertise and energy that they embody and pointed out that expectations from India are quite high and that it can be a resource for other countries in their fight for equal rights for persons with disabilities. The strength of the Indian disability movement that is increasingly becoming visible at a global platform, along with the fact that Disabled People’s International (D.P.I.) is now being headed by an Indian should take the movement to even greater heights.
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