Disabled people should themselves become leaders in the fight for their rights and while doing so they should not remain isolated but integrate with all other sections of society to further their movement, says Advocate Ashok Aggarwal in conversation with Parvinder Singh.
1) Please tell us about yourself and in particular your association with disability related litigation?
In 1997-98, when I began raising issues relating to school children, I became aware of a large number of children with disabilities who were being left out of the schooling system. This awareness inspired me to start working on the issue of disability and as I kept moving with it more and more information emerged and my association grew stronger.
Litigation is a way to develop Disability Law. There is immense need and scope for developing disability law. I am a practicing advocate since 1976 and have had a close association with trade union movement. Even before I got my Law degree, I was representing workers/trade unions before Labour Courts/Industrial Tribunals in the matter of labour disputes.
2) This is the tenth year of the passage of the Disability Act. Do you feel that during this period, as per your experience as a jurist, the public at large and disabled people in particular have become more aware of disability rights?
Certainly, the public as well as disabled people have become more aware of disability rights. But it is still just a drop in the ocean when we compare it with the magnitude of the problem. I can say with a great deal of certainty that the benefits of the Disability Act 1995 has not at all reached a large section of disabled people. For instance, very few children with disability belonging to weaker sections of society have made it to mainstream schools.
3) Please tell us about the ongoing hearing on the issue of Access in Delhi High Court?
The Delhi High Court has been hearing a Public Interest Litigation filed in 2001 by National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (N.C.P.E.D.P.) Executive Director and Convenor Disabled Rights Group Javed Abidi. I was appointed as Amicus Curiae by the Court during a hearing on 24 August 2005. In consequent hearing I presented a proposal for the Courtís consideration for issuing necessary direction in the matter. The judges have been pulling up the authorities for their failure to implement the law. Due to this intervention, the situation will improve. However, it is a long fight and the people at large have to carry it to its logical culmination.
4) There is demand for disability rights to be seen within the purview of Human Rights. Please comment.
Disability rights are a Human Rights issue. One cannot see disability rights in isolation. When we see disability rights within the purview of Human Rights we are invariably expanding the scope and implication of disability rights. The United Nations General Assembly adopted a declaration on the rights of disabled persons through Resolution number 3447(XXX) of 9 December 1975. Some regard it as the most important document containing international commitment on the protection of the following human rights of disabled persons. According to it human rights of disabled people are:
a. Right to respect for their human dignity (Para 3 of declaration)
b. Right to enjoy same civil and political rights as other human beings (Para 4 of the declaration of human rights)
c. Their entitlements to the measures designed to enable them to become as self-reliant as possible (Para 5 of the declaration)
d. Right to medical, psychological and functional treatment, including prosthetic and orthetic applicances, to medical and social rehabilitation, education, vocational training and rehabilitation aid, counselling, placement service, and other services which will enable them to develop their capabilities and skills to the maximum and will hasten the processes of their social integration or reintegration (Para 6 of declaration)
e. Right to 'economic and social security' and to a decent level of living (Para 7 of declaration)
f. Right to get their specific needs considered at all stages of social and economic planning (Para 8 of the declaration)
g. Right to live with their families or foster parents and to participate in all social, and cultural activities (Para 9 of declaration)
h. Right to be protected against exploitation or discrimination of any form (Para 10 of declaration)
i. Right to have legal aid for the protection of their persons and properties (Para 10 of declaration)
j. Right of organisations of disabled persons to be consulted in matters concerning them (Para 12 of the declaration
5) Is the country's legal fraternity sensitive to the rights and needs of disabled people?
Legal fraternity is not different than others. They are a part of the larger society. Sensitivity about disability issues and rights of the disabled is lacking in all sections of the society. Lot of work needs to be done before this can change.
6) Is there anything that you would like to share with our readers?
People with disabilities should themselves fight for their rights. While struggling for their rights, they should not remain isolated but should integrate all other sections of people in their movement. We all must understand that the fight for justice to disabled people is a common fight. The justice in society is secured only when every one joins the fight against injustice against anyone.