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Discriminatory law denies equal rights to hearing impaired girl

Sometimes one is forced to wonder if the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (C.R.P.D.) has only been ratified in name when the reality of the grassroots in India comes to light. One such incidence is the rejection of the candidature of a speech and hearing impaired woman, T. Kavitha, who wanted to contest elections to the local bodies in Tamil Nadu from Navamaal Kapper village in Villupuram district.

The Federation of the Tamil Nadu Physically Handicapped Associations (F.T.N.P.H.A.) led a demonstration outside the State Election Commission office and protested against the archaic and unfair law in Tamil Nadu that prevents a person like Kavitha from contesting elections. The Tamil Nadu State Election Commission in their Handbook for Candidates (Rural) under Sec 2.2 (c) say that a person can be disqualified from filing nomination “if he or she is a deaf/ mute or of unsound mind.” And in the Handbook for Candidates (Urban), under Sec 2.3 (c) states that a person can be disqualified from filing nomination “if he or she is deaf/mute or of unsound mind or Leprosy affected.”

The F.T.N.P.H.A. condemned the use of the words such as sevittu-oomai (deaf-mute) in the Tamil Nadu Panchayat Act Sec 37(3) and laws which reject candidates on the basis of disability alone. The representatives from the federation met the Tamil Nadu State Election Commissioner, S. Ayyar, and demanded the removal of offending terminology and to take necessary measures to ensure that disabled persons are not denied equal rights under the law. They are also going to file a Public Interest Litigation in the Madras High Court seeking an amendment to the Act.