Rights of Persons with Disabilities – An Indian Context

This week, I will be attending the National Disability Consultation to be held over 19th and 20th July at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. This engagement organized by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) is expected to feature an exciting line up of power packed speakers and sessions planned over the two day consultation involving organizations from across the country who will work with their respective State Governments to push for implementation of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.

As a lead up to the Global Disability Summit in London in July, the consultation  organized with support from UK Government, Mphasis and Axis Bank seeks to bring together the sector leaders onto a common platform, to arrive at a cohesive action plan and way forward to ensure that people are made aware of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 and empowered to push for it’s implementation within their individual constituencies.

I look forward to being part of the team representing Leonard Cheshire in this landmark consultation. More so, that the kickoff would be on my birthday.

black and white chairs conference room discussion
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Global Outlook on Policies and Conventions on Rights of Persons with Disabilities

In 2008, the UN Convention of the Rights of  Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) came into effect. This was the first human rights treaty of the 21st century and a culmination of 30 years of UN involvement in disability issues including;

  • 1981 UN International Year of the Disabled
  • 1983-1992 UN Decade of Disabled Persons
  • 1993 UN Standard  Rules on Equalization of Opportunities of Persons with Disabilities

The UNCRPD is an international human rights treaty of the United Nations intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. Parties to the convention are required to promote, protect, and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities and ensure that they enjoy full equality under the law. The Convention has served as the major catalyst in shifting the global approaches to disability from Charity, Medical and Social to the Human Rights Disability Model.(Refer to my previous blog article Shifting Sands)

The UNCRPD has eight guiding principles that underlie the convention which is also the only UN human rights instrument with an explicit sustainable development dimension. These guiding principles are;

  1. Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons with disability.
  2. Non-discrimination
  3. Full and effective participation and inclusion in society
  4. Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity
  5. Equality of opportunity
  6. Accessibility
  7. Equality between men and women
  8. Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities

Milestones and Current Adoption Status

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  • 13 December 2006 – Text was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly
  • 30 March 2007 – Opened for signature
  • 3 May 2008 – Ratification by the 20th party and subsequently coming into force
  • In the US – In December 2012, a vote in the United States Senate fell six votes short of the two-thirds majority required for ratification. The Convention is monitored by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  • Current status – As of April 2018, it has 161 signatories and 177 parties, which includes 172 states and the European Union (which ratified it on 23 December 2010 to the extent responsibilities of the member states were transferred to the European Union).

The India Situation

“A human being is a magnificent creation of the creator and that magnificence should be exposed in a humane, magnanimous and all-inclusive manner so that all tend to feel that they have their deserved space” – Supreme Court observation in the Pranay Kumar Podder vs State of Tripura and Others case in 2017.

In India the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016 came into place in 2016 replacing the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act of 1995 and aligning with the 21 century understanding of the rights of persons with disabilities as captured in the ratified UNCRPD.

Being almost 2 years since India’s enactment of the RPWD Act and this month marking the first anniversary of commencement of implementation of its rules, there remains a lot to progress as only a handful of States have signified their rules.

In May 2017 during 15th National Review Meeting of the State Commissioners for Persons with Disabilities it was noted that, only seven states had set up specific departments for implementing programmes and schemes for the welfare of disabled persons. In addition, only 14 states had appointed independent commissioners to safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities and act as a “watchdogs” of the schemes under the Act. While inaugurating the meeting, the Union Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot asked all states to implement the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 sine qua non.

A year down the line, it would be interesting to take stock of accomplishments made as an input to the forward action plan to forged during this consultation. This will be key to ensuring that the Act, strong as it maybe, does not remain just a piece of paper.

The Opportunity – A Renewed Hope and Momentum

black and white decision doors opportunity
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Any forum that brings everyone onto the same table creates a great opportunity for consensus building and decision making.

Why is consensus necessary? Consensus gives a taste of how things could be done differently. It aims to dismantle all kinds of hierarchy, and replaces it with shared power. It is based on the values of equality, freedom, co-operation and respect for everyone’s needs on the grounds of;

  • Inclusion: Bringing into the process, as many as stakeholders and community members as possible. Excluding none unless on their request to be left.
  • Participation: Expectation that everyone participates by contributing opinions as they have an equal interest in the outcome.
  • Co-operation: Collaboration towards an inclusive and acceptable solution for all. Not exclusive for the majority or most influential.
  • Egalitarianism: Everyone’s input measured against the same yardstick creating and equal opportunity to rationalize, adopt or drop ideas.
  • Solution-mindedness: The quest for common solution taking precedence over differences in opinion hence all collaboratively shaping proposals until most concerns are addressed.

What to Expect

A collaborative National Disability Consultation rather than an adversarial debate can only yield better decisions and stakeholder relationships leading to better implementation of decisions to be captured on the anticipated forward action plan towards implementing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.

The consultation will also create awareness as well as create a framework for stakeholders to engage with respective State Governments and other constituencies to ensure that provisions of the Act are translated into reality.

This is definitely a step in the right direction that needs to be supported and emulated by all parties working in the persons with disability sector.

photo of four persons uniting hands
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Philippians 2:3-4 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

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