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People with disabilities must consider issues not propaganda - Dr B S Patil & Monika S Kshatriya

Goa goes to the polls on 23 April and ahead of the big day Dr B S Patil and Monika S Kshatriya, members of Goa-based advocacy group, iDare, Initiative for Disability Awareness Rights and Empowerment, look at the political parties in the fray and what Goa voters must consider before deciding who should form the next government. Dr Patil, who is from the Salgaocar Law College is director of the disability rights cell here.

Come election season and political parties begin pulling out dusty files regarding the needs of minority groups. This is perhaps the only time that due attention is given to the neglected lot. However, there is one group, often referred to as the 'invisible minority', that has, over the years, failed to get even that little iota of attention in the most sensitized of all seasons, the elections.

A quick look at the manifestos of various national political parties reveals an alarming apathy towards the cause of Persons with Disabilities.

India has undertaken many international obligations relating to the rights of persons with disability (PwD). It is sad, but true that, most of the developments in the area of human rights of PwD happen due to international pressure. It is under these international obligations that the government brings about new laws or policies, which once drafted and adopted rarely see much action. Take for example the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016, which was passed by Parliament and notified on 28 December 2016. Over two years have passed, but the Government of Goa is yet to notify its rules and enact it in the state.

The Constitution of India mandates that PwD enjoy the same rights as other citizens. Sadly, 75% of PwD in India, live in villages, almost 50% are illiterate and only 34% are employed (2001 data). The National Policy on PwD released in 2006 recognized PwDs as valuable human resource and stressed on the state providing conducive environments to realize their potential, contribute to the society and lead independent lives.

To understand the commitment of national parties towards the rights of PwDs, we undertook a simple exercise of analysing the election manifestos of five national parties and measured them vis a vis their vision for PwDs. Before that, here's a caveat, this write up is purely an academic exercise to educate voters on the level of commitment of parties towards rights of PwDs. It does in no way support any particular political party.

Consider This

Communist Party of India (Marxist)

In the last Lok Sabha CPI(M) had nine seats. For the current elections, the manifesto runs into 35 pages. Before going into the details, it is important to mention that, the party makes a special mention of Persons with Disabilities; in fact, there are 12 entries under the heading. In addition to the special heading, PwD are sporadically mentioned in other places of the manifesto.

The CPI(M) promises budgetary allocation for implementation of two enactments (relating to PwDs). It promises to simplify the process of certification, implementation of promises made on international forums and review the national disability policy. Promise of backlog clearance, creation of new job and accessibility of building and TV and other media is made. On the whole, we found that CPI(M) has done their homework on RPwD and prepared a manifesto. They also display an understanding of the requirements of the PwDs.

Nationalist Congress Party

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has had a comfortable presence in Goa and more so in Maharashtra. In the last Lok Sabha, NCP had 7 members in the lower house. The manifesto of NCP, this time, runs into 23 pages. There are three places where they come close to addressing issues pertaining to PwDs but finally fail to specifically recognize this group. In the context of Human Resource Development, they evoke all groups with the exception of PwDs. This is an indication that, NCP does not consider PwD as a human resource. This is a degrading approach by the party think tank. Right to health, women and child health, child protection and women empowerment are different headings where NCP could have addressed the issues of PwDs.

The NCP wishes to display a socialistic approach, where they promise facilities to minorities like socially backward, economically backward, women and children. But a zero-specific mention of persons with disabilities, which by international statistics constitute 10% of the population worldwide, exposes a glaring deficiency in their socialistic goals. It is disturbing to note that NCP displays a complete lack of depth and understanding of issues pertaining to persons with disabilities.

Trinamool Congress

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) had 33 MPs in the last Lok Sabha and is in power in west Bengal. The AITC or TMC manifesto is 72 pages long, out of which a major portion is dedicated to the achievements of the TMC in West Bengal. Of the remaining, one part is dedicated to failure of the BJP government at centre and rest is promises for the coming years.

Like NCP, not a single line is dedicated to the upliftment of the persons with disabilities. Yet again a party that claims a socialistic approach but fails miserably in doing so. The exclusion or absence of PwDs from its key document shows such an utter failure in addressing social justice.

Indian National Congress

Apparently, the main contender to the incumbent government, the Congress party, had 45 members in the last Lok Sabha. The Congress manifesto sounds promising, since it calls for a constitutional amendment that will include Disability in Articles 15 and 16 so that the State can make special provisions for the PwDs. The Congress addresses yet another issue by suggesting an amendment to include Indian Sign Language and the braille script as languages. The party promises to ensure physical inclusiveness by making government buildings etc. barrier free.

Their understanding of disability issues is exemplified as they recognize the importance of information inclusiveness through an accessible information portal. In response to a long-standing demand of the disability sector, Congress assures its commitment to zero GST on all assistive and adaptive aids, appliances and devices. The party assures in its manifesto, a quick review of the policy statement of each and every department to include PwDs. Finally, the party commits itself to establish a National Centre of Research and Excellence for Special Education to ensure quality education. To include post activity feedback, the party proposes annual social audit of the PwDs.

Bharatiya Janata Party

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014 with a massive 268 MPs. In the manifesto this time, they recommit themselves to the schemes announced in their last tenure in addition to some new promises. The incumbent party has promised early intervention and early detection of disability by empowering Anganwadi workers network. The party assures citizens to (of) its commitment to physical accessibility through its Sugamya Bharat or Accessible India Campaign.

Like Congress, BJP promises continuous accessibility audits along with ratings for cities, public infrastructure including airports, railway stations etc. and collaboration with industry and civil society organizations to make all public buildings accessible. The party addresses housing needs through priority for PwDs under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. In order to give impetus to financial advancement of PwDs, BJP promises higher bank interest rates on fixed deposits.

While some manifestos with their detailed ideas and promises display their intent to the social upliftment of PwDs, there are two parties who seem to have no inkling of these issues. When a party aspires to represent its population, it must rise above the din and noise of petty electoral politics. The process of drafting a manifesto must be done with an intent to bring about a change, with a commitment to social justice and special attention to those who have been left out so far. In a country as diverse and vast as ours, a holistic understanding of the needs of the population is crucial to governance.

It has been said that, conditions at the edge of a society reveal more about the state and progress of a society than conditions in the middle. Out of the five manifestos we have analyzed, three parties have made provisions for PwDs. So, before you go out and vote, make careful consideration of which party addresses the needs of our society the best. Give a careful think to whom would you prefer to represent you.

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