Volume 4 Issue 16 - August 15, 2006

Are Indian disabled citizens truly independent?

As the current issue of D.N.I.S. happens to coincide with our country’s Independence Day, we decided to ask a dozen leaders from the Indian cross-disability movement one pertinent question - Are Indian disabled citizens truly independent? Following are their responses (in alphabetical order):

Arun Rao, Director, The Deaf Way

For one to be independent, it is first of all necessary to believe that one can be independent and then to have the systems in place to actually be 'independent'. The Indian disabled citizen has to fight to achieve both these criteria.

The average Indian deaf person has no access to education or even to a language in which he may be taught, no higher education what so ever, no access to information through electronic media though he has the right to it! Most certainly not independent in any way.

Asha Mehra, Secretary, Swavalamban

To be truly independent, that is to have total freedom to do as they wish is still a dream for Indian disabled citizens. According to me, the progress of a country can be judged by the way it cares for its disabled population.

D.S. Chauhan
, General Secretary, Delhi Association of the Deaf

What a question? Independent? Disabled persons at that? The answer is of course No. Whether it is childhood, or growing years, adulthood or old age, they need support. Why? Because the Government has miserably failed to meet even their very basic needs like education, training or rehabilitation. How they can be independent?

George Abraham,
Chief Executive Officer, Score Foundation

Yes and No. On a personal front, I feel that I am as independent as everybody else in terms of participating as well as contributing to national, social and family life.

But on a more general platform, the voice of the disabled people has been suppressed due to lack of opportunities such as freedom of education, and even opening a bank account in case of visually impaired people.

J.L. Kaul,
Secretary General, All India Confederation of the Blind

In my view nobody is truly independent in this world. All of us are dependent on others for one or the other reason, to limited or greater extent.

If we look back on the status of visually impaired persons, we will find that about 50 years back they were totally dependent on their families. They were also not integrated in the society but today those who have got an opportunity, have achieved heights in their lives.

No doubt majority of the disabled people are still not independent in taking decisions and leading their life as per their wishes. But that way, majority of the country’s population is also not independent in their lives.

J.P. Gadkari,
President, PARIVAAR

The real independence of a person with disability can only be guaranteed if there is strict implementation of the laws enacted for them, ensuring economic independence and change in the mindset of the society.

Bardalai, Coordinator, Legislation & Advocacy, A.A.D.I.

No, not really, not yet! Particularly if we look at a country-wide perspective beyond the urban prism. Even after 60 years, disabled Indian citizens continue to be stonewalled by barriers of attitude and environment. The attitudinal barriers are harder to overcome.

But, the scenario is changing, albeit very slowly and largely due to the heroic personal daily struggle of persons with disability. We really do have "...miles to go before we sleep..."

Kothari, Secretary, Blind Graduates Forum of India

People in India are at best indifferent to the plight of the disabled. I feel that we are more “attitudinally challenged” than being visually or orthopaedically challenged.

Our politicians have no concern. N.G.O.s are also doing what they have been doing for ages. What is required is the awakening amongst the disabled and their education and appropriate training so that they could become taxpayers instead of tax consumers.

Merry Barua,
Director, Action for Autism

This begs a simple answer to a complicated question. We need policy changes, we need access, we need services, but first we need to change the way we view those who are different. We the people of India have to begin viewing disability with glasses that are not distorted by our individual personal particular prejudices. For that matter, we have to embrace every kind of difference as a legitimate part of society.

Dr. Mithu Alur, Founder Chairperson, National Resource Centre for Inclusion

I would think that disabled people in India are not independent. They are
imprisoned in an inaccessible environment… trapped within a framework of negativity and being a disabled in India is like being in “hell on earth”.

Salil Chaturvedi, Partner, Splash! Communications

No. Disabled people in India cannot govern their lives to the extent that other citizens can, everything else remaining the same. We are imprisoned by the physical environment and by the attitude of our fellow citizens (most of them, anyway).

On a positive note, the situation is changing and disabled citizens are also learning that independence comes from asserting one’s rights.

Datrange, Rehabilitation Consultant, Association for Blindness & Low Vision

When independence is translated into measurable objectives that are enshrined in the Constitution and various legislations in the form of fundamental rights, we see that we have a long way to go.

Unless the mindset of the society and the State changes, and enabling conditions are created, disabled people cannot enjoy the fruits of independence. True emancipation and liberation of disabled people is a distant dream and I’m afraid it may not be achieved in our lifetime.

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