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Thousands of deaf protestors bring Planning Commission to a standstill

D.N.I.S. News Network, India: As the Government celebrated another cosmetic World Disability Day on December 3, around 2000 hearing impaired people from across the country under the banner of National Association of the Deaf (N.A.D.) stormed Yojana Bhawan in New Delhi, which houses the office of the Planning Commission, protesting against the non-implementation of the XIth Five Year Plan.

The protestors blocked the entry to the building and the road and refused to budge from there till their demands were heard. The XIth Five Year Plan has an entire chapter on disability with maximum benefits for the deaf community. The Plan mandates the setting up of a Sign language Research and Training Centre, a National Captioning Centre, atleast one residential school upto class XII for hearing impaired students in every state and one degree college in every zone, among other things. But more than 2 years after the Plan came into force, implementation has been zero.

N.A.D. had been trying to meet with the Deputy Chairperson of the Planning Commission, Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia for close to 3 months without avail. Ironically, half an hour into the protest, Dr. Ahluwalia agreed to meet the leadership of N.A.D.

A.S. Narayanan, Secretary, N.A.D.; Zorin Singha, President, N.A.D.; along with Arun Rao of The Deafway Foundation and Javed Abidi, Convenor, Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.) expressed their deep displeasure at the non-implementation of the promises made to the disability sector in general and the deaf community in particular, under the XIth Five Year Plan. Dr. Ahluwalia immediately offered to have a Committee constituted to review this issue as a part of the ongoing mid term appraisal of the Plan. But the delegation categorically refused this offer and said that mere assurances and reviews would no longer work. They needed a tangible time frame.

After much back and forth, Dr. Ahluwalia conceded to personally put in a word with the Prime Minister at a cabinet meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. that very day. He also agreed to talk to Mukul Wasnik, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, the nodal ministry for disability related issues.

Undeterred by the cold, the thousands of deaf protestors continued on with their ‘indefinite dharna’. As the word spread, a large number of media people started descending at Yojna Bhavan. With the clock ticking and virtually with every passing minute, the embarrassment only kept increasing for Government of India! The pressure was truly mounting.

Finally at around 8 p.m., Mukul Wasnik personally spoke to Abidi over the cellphone and invited the N.A.D. delegation for a meeting at his residence. Wasnik listened patiently to the demands. Shockingly, he was not even aware of the chapter on disability in the XIth Five Year Plan. Arun Rao told Wasnik that due to the lack of sign language training, education for hearing impaired children in the country is vastly neglected, as a result of which the level of their employment is pretty dismal. Rao informed the Minister that India only has 6 trained sign language interpreters! He firmly reiterated that only the setting up of a Sign Language Institute will address these needs. Rao also lamented the absence of the post of sign language interpreter at public utility services like railway stations, airports, passport offices, etc.

Wasnik assured the delegation that he would look into all the mandates of the XIth Five Year Plan and will schedule another meeting soon. Finally, the protest was called off at about 10 p.m., nearly 8 hours after it all began.