The World Bank estimates that 15% of the world’s population is affected by one disability or another. According to the 2011 Census, the number of disabled in India stands at 2.68 crore, or 2.21% of the population.
Updated: Mar 06, 2018 18:12 IST
The death of the disability activist, Javed Abidi, may be an appropriate time to assess whether the ground reality is improving for the millions of physically challenged in the country. A wheelchair user, Abidi was a champion of employment and accessibility for disabled people and one of the moving forces behind the enactment of the Right of Persons with Disabilities Bill in 2016. Approved by the Parliament in December, 2016, the Bill provided for imprisonment up to two years, along with a fine between Rs 10,000 and Rs 5 lakh for discriminating against the differently abled. It also increased the number of recognised disabilities from 7 to 21, including, for the first time, disability due to acid attacks and Parkinson’s.
At the time it was approved, the disability law was hailed as a progressive piece of legislation. It gave hope to those suffering from conditions like thalassemia, haemophilia, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and learning disabilities, says disability rights advocate Nipun Malhotra. “Apart from making the disabled in these categories eligible for State benefits and employment, it gave the community the belief that they now had legal backing to make their voices heard.” But more than a year after it was passed, the benefits of the Act haven’t begun to affect people’s lives, yet. Most states — barring Delhi, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal — haven’t even framed draft rights yet.
Still, the legislation appears to be giving the disabled the confidence to take on the odds, in case they are discriminated against. In Jharkhand, for instance, when a three-year-old girl with locomoter disability was refused admission by a school, her parents went to the media. They alleged that the principal had made fun of the family and turned them away. It took the intervention of chief minister Raghubar Das and a campaign on social media to make the authorities admit the girl to Dhanbad’s De Nobili School. Thalassemia patient Sruchi Rathore of Chhattisgarh wasn’t as fortunate. When she was denied admission to a medical college in August 2017 , the Supreme Court had to step in: “It is the duty of every institution to extend a helping hand to disabled persons,” ruled a bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and A M Khanwilkar, as it asked the medical board to assess whether her disability qualified for the seat.