“Those in power are neither interested nor familiar with issues of disabled people. We are convinced, with all these years of experience, that participation in governance is the only way of changing the lives of millions of disabled people,” says Rashtriya Vikalang Party President K. K. Dikshit in conversation with Parvinder Singh.
1. Please tell us about yourself and your involvement with the issue of disability.
I am a disabled person with post polio paralysis in my right upper and lower limbs. I come from a family of traders. Till a decade ago I was not actively involved with the issue of disability. But by the year 1995, I was struck by the common plight of ordinary disabled people, particularly in rural areas of Uttar Pradesh. As my concern for the social and political marginalisation of disabled people grew, I founded the Uttar Pradesh Vikalang Samiti. With this began the journey of my active involvement in the issues of disabled people. I must tell you that though 70 per cent disabled people live in rural India, yet most of the disabled peoples’ organisations are restricted to urban areas. I will go to the extent of saying that the city-based Non Governmental Organisations (N.G.O.s) are not even willing to work in the rural areas. After several years of active work in some of the poorest parts of North India, like Bundelkhand, I realised that this section of society is nowhere in the focus of politicians, parties and policy makers. Those in power are neither interested nor familiar with issues of disabled people. We are convinced, with all these years of experience, that participation in governance is the only way of changing the lives of millions of disabled people. With this conviction, we founded the Rahstriya Vikalang Party last year. The basic vision of the party is to turn the invisible and oppressed mass of disabled people into a political entity and a consolidated vote bank. I am the President of this party. It has offices in eight states and 83,000 members nationally.
2. Why did you decide to set a separate party? Will it not be easier and quicker to penetrate into mainstream political parties?
In the past 56 years of India’s existence as an independent country almost all imaginable social, economic and religious group have been politicised and thus have become a part of electoral arithmetic. Disabled people, who account for 10 per cent of this country’s population, are the only ones who have not been acknowledged as a political factor till date. The existing political parties are shockingly unresponsive towards us. Let me ask you, how come each political party has at least a dozen fronts or outfits that are geared towards voicing the interest of different sections of voters and not one is there for disabled people? We had written to all political parties asking them to make a morcha or a front dealing with disabled people, but not one of them heard us. Even Bahujan Samaj Party (B.S.P.), which represents the most oppressed sections of Indian society, refused us. Poverty and disability has a symbiotic relation and yet we are rebuffed by even those who call themselves the party of poor people.
3. What are the reasons behind the lack of political consciousness among disabled people?
There are several reasons for this. Firstly, as I said before, disabled people are amongst the poorest of the poor and this leaves them struggling for their basic survival. Secondly, the family members of disabled people hide them in their homes, not allowing them to go out and dare to speak out. Finally, the local N.G.O.s and Disabled Peoples’ Organisations in villages are the greatest perpetuators of charity approach and the image of helplessness of disabled people. How do you expect disabled people, who are lined up occasionally in front of political leaders on certain special days and handed out doles, to develop political self-respect? These organisations have created a misconception among disabled people that all that they can expect at political gatherings is charity and handouts. The disabled people have to first become aware of the strength of their number and then get disciplined as a group to take advantage of vote-bank politics. I have cited its example several times to people that if small caste groups can come together and make a party, then why not disabled people?
4. Tell us about the Social Justice March that has reached the National Capital? What are your demands?
Our party members and disabled activists began the march on 18 February in Lucknow and reached Delhi on 10 April after covering a distance of almost 600-km. The march has received very encouraging response. But right now we are staging a Dharana against none other than the President of India as despite several communications and almost two months of arduous journey by disabled people no response has been forthcoming. We are not afraid of repercussion of such a step; I do not care even if I am hanged for this. If President can find time and reason to meet traders, he can do so for us as well. We want to present to him a 25-point charter of demands. These include: extension of reservation in government jobs for disabled people from the current 3 per cent to 10 per cent; implementation of job reservation in private sector; reservation of 10 per cent posts in all political and governing bodies, from local to national level.
5. You have demanded 10 per cent reservation for disabled people in all party posts and legislative institutions elected by people. Is this a pragmatic demand? How do you plan to achieve this?
I will get back to numbers. I keep reverting to them because that is what in essence democratic politics is all about. Disabled people constitute 10 per cent of India’s total population, and my estimate is that 6 per cent of the country’s electorate is comprised of disabled people. Now add to each disabled voter three more voters who are his or her immediate family, like father, mother, wife or husband. This gives you a figure of 24 per cent. Now tell me, is 24 per cent not a serious figure. If there is space for a third national party, after the Indian National Congress and Bhartiya Janata Party, it is for Rashtriya Vikalang Party.
We only have to educate the political leadership and convince disabled people to see the logic of unity and political assertion. To me and my party, the demand is very pragmatic. About the 10 per cent reservation, if similar thing can be done for minorities, backward communities and women, then why not us? We plan to achieve it the same way as has been done by other oppressed social groups. By going into direct action, we have taken the first step.
6. Will your party field candidates in State of Assembly elections?
Oh yes most definitely, and we will be marking our first serious electoral debut in the very near future with the local council elections in Uttar Pradesh. We are confident that some decisive gains will be made as we will field candidates on all seats. This will be an eye opener for every one both disabled and non-disabled. We have realised through the long yatra that disability is an issue that most people empathise with, as being a cross-cutting agenda it also beyond sectarian division that plagues our polity.