Education November 27, 2020
Students with disabilities in Kerala await benefits as they tread through unchartered waters
The ongoing pandemic has affected students with disabilities and their parents in Kerala who were already struggling with many other issues. Amount of their yearly benefits/scholarships have been cut short now.
The Covid crisis is not yet over. Pandemic has changed lives, but for many in a bad way. As schools still remain closed in Kerala, students with disabilities and their parents are the worst affected. State government that is supposed to provide monetary benefits to nearly one lakh disabled students are now ignoring the community. Even before the Covid crisis, students and parents had to knock doors of government offices for their dues to be paid. The pandemic has only made things worse.
Plight of disabled students and parents
16-year-old Mehek (name has been changed) diagnosed with autism lives in Fort Kochi with her family. Since her school is shut, Mehek has to remain inside the house. Her parents, who are daily wage workers, cannot afford to stay at home and take care of her. They cannot afford a caretaker either. So her mother has stopped going for work. The family is now struggling to make ends meet. With government not providing any benefits to them, Mehek’s parents are searching in the dark for answers.
This is not an isolated incident. Nearly 1 lakh disabled students and their parents are facing tough times with no monetary support from the government who reasons to them saying pandemic isn’t over and hence there is a dearth of funds.
PB George, Director of Parivar, an organization that works with students with disabilities and parents says that government has categorized beneficiaries into A,B, C and D categories. They are given benefits based on their disabilities. According to him, officials and media reports stating these benefits as scholarships are wrong. “Every state must provide certain benefits to not just students with disabilities but caretakers too. Even before the Covid crisis, it was a herculean task to avail them. Officials came up with excuses like their computers aren’t working. Nothing has changed now either”, he says adding, “It is not true that government cannot afford to pay them. They have paid dues of many state and central government employees even as the pandemic is ongoing”.
Marginalized for long
According to George, Parivar as well as many NGO’s have discussed this with concerned officials who have not given apt responses. “A confusion is created. The coordination committee consisting of ministers, disability commissioner and concerned departments must be working on this. We have been asking for answers since past many months, but haven’t got any yet. Government must provide us copy of the minutes so that we can also know what they are up to”, says George.
Seema Lal, co-founder of TogetherWeCan, a parent support group in Kerala stresses on importance of government being more sensitive to such issues.
“It is really unfortunate that hardly any planning went into the disability and mental health sector while the state was on an active mode to cope with physical health crisis. The worst affected are always the vulnerable and marginalized families-those of children with disabilities who also have an additional financial struggle. There is no health without mental health. We have been voicing this for long”, she says.